I have been fascinated for a long time with the idea of writing an essay encompassing all the lyrics to the song We Didn’t Star the Fire, by Billy Joel and in this year long labour of love, I have finally completed my mission. I tried very hard to include the most pertinent facts about each historical event or person, but some subjects were incredibly broad. In those cases, I chose to narrow the material to that which I found most interesting to research.
There are approximately 100 events listed in the lyrics; all of which took place between 1949, the year of Billy Joel’s birth and 1989, the year he released the song. Here are the song lyrics in their entirety. The essay for each event, listed by verse are below. Enjoy!
Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe
Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”
Eisenhower, vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye
We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it
Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc
Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, “Rock Around the Clock”
Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland
Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, “Peyton Place”, trouble in the Suez
We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it
Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, “Bridge on the River Kwai”
Lebanon, Charlse de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide
Buddy Holly, “Ben Hur”, space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go
U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, “Psycho”, Belgians in the Congo
We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it
Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion
“Lawrence of Arabia”, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson
Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say
We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it
Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan
“Wheel of Fortune”, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law
Rock and roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore
Chorus x 3
Harry Truman (1884-1972) – Was the 33d President of the United States in power at the end of WW II from 1945 to 1953 and is perhaps most well known for authorizing the use of the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in order to end WWII with Japan after the Germans had surrendered. He helped organize the United Nations and sent troops into Korea when North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950.
Doris Day – (1922 or 1924 – )Is (she’s still alive at the time of this writing) a well known, American singer and film actress. She might be best known for her song Sentimental Journey, but had a long, distinguished career as an actress, a singer and an animal rights activist. She was embroiled in legal battles spanning 2-3 decades with Jerome Bernard Rosenthal, a lawyer who mishandled her finances and left her bankrupt. The court awarded her damages. She is also a practicing Christian Scientist.
Red China – Refers to China under Communist rule. The Communist USSR and to a lesser extent, China represented the “Red Scare”; a political threat to the Democratic governments of the west, and in particular, the United States. Whether the threat was real or perceived, there was a generalized mass paranoia in the United States after WWII when Russia and the USSR, once an ally, was now perceived as an enemy.
Johnnie Ray (1927-1990) Some credit Johnnie Ray as being the true father of Rock and Roll. He rose to quick popularity by starring alongside Ethel Merman in There’s No Business Like Show Business. He was well known for being extremely emotive in his performing style, often crying, tearing his hair and falling to the floor. Although he never publicly came out of the closet, he was known by many to be gay.
South Pacific has a number of different possible connotations, but likely refers to the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein Play South Pacific which was based on the book by James Michener called Tales of the South Pacific. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950 and contained a number of controversial subjects dealing with race, sex and gender. The play was adapted into a very successful film in 1958 of the same name.
Walter Winchell (1897-1972) – He was known as one of the first expose newspaper and radio reporters. His gossip column “On Broadway” newspaper columns was syndicated in over 2000 publications worldwide. He was one of the first radio personalities who was an outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler in the 1930’s and a staunch supporter of African American civil rights and Cancer research. He was a complicated contradictory character and despite his support of these worthwhile causes, he was sometimes seen as petty, cruel and ruthless in his pursuit of getting what he wanted; and not above spreading lies and rumours about politicians and celebrities.
Joe DiMaggio (1914-1999) – Was an American Baseball player who played for the New York Yankees and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. He has a 56 game hitting streak which is a record that still stands to this day. He retired from baseball in 1951, and although he was married to Marilyn Monroe for less than a year, it became something that DiMaggio was famous for. They remained friends until she was found dead before he was planning to ask her to marry him again.
Joe McCarthy (1908-1957) – Was a senator from Wisconsin and was best known for creating the “Red Scare” in the United States: he crusaded to rid the US of Communist and Communist sympathizers and created widespread fear and paranoia that Communists were infiltrating all tiers of society. Less well known, but perhaps more damaging to more people was his attacks against homosexuals or alleged homosexuals. Toward the end of his career, the US Senate censured his activity in 1954. He died in 1957 of Hepatitis thought to be exacerbated by his excessive drinking.
Richard Nixon (1913-1995) – Was the 37th President of the United States and was in office from 1969 to 1974. But before making his big debut in politics, he was responsible for helping to convict Albert Hiss; a Communist spy; solidifying a favorable reputation in American politics and paving the way to be elected president in 1968.
Studebaker (1852-1966) – Was an American Automotive company that was founded in 1852 and originally manufactured wagons. In the early 1900’s they began manufacturing electric vehicles, but phased out of electric in favour of the gasoline engine with the last electric car made in 1911. They continued to make cars until the 1960, but declining sales and increasing competition forced them to close their last manufacturing plant located in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1966. Before they closed their automobile division, however, Studebaker had diversified its portfolio into a number of different products, including the well known automotive engine additive STP.
Television – Television is a device which transmits moving pictures and sounds and a rudimentary version was available in limited capacity in the 1920’s but wasn’t available on a mass scale until after WWII. Before this time, most families would enjoy an evening’s entertainment listening to news and comedy programs on a radio. Television became widely available to most homes in the 1950’s and color television was increasing in popularity by the 1960’s.
North Korea and South Korea – North Korea is a Communist country in East Asia that shares borders with China, Russia and South Korea. Both North and South make up the Korean Peninsula which was annexed by Japan in 1910. When Japan surrendered in 1945 at the end of WWII, Korea was divided by the Allied forces into the Soviet controlled North Korea and the American controlled South Korea. Talks of reunification failed and led to the Korean War in 1950. An armistice agreement was reached in 1953, although neither side signed a Peace Treaty. North and South Korea are separated by a demilitarized zone, that both sides claim sovereignty over. Even though North and South Korea are considered separate countries by the United Nations both governments claim to the be the legitimate government of the entire Korean peninsula. Ironically, widely considered to be a totalitarian regime with countless human rights violation, North Korea, with its one party system calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) Was born Norma Jean Mortenson and was an American film, television, music star and sex symbol who died of a barbiturate overdose; and ruled a suicide despite the numerous conspiracy theories about her death being a murder plot dreamt up by such players as John F. Kennedy (with whom there are rumours of a romantic affiliation), the CIA, and the Mafia. Marilyn Monroe was the first Playboy Centerfold. She was married three times; the first to an unknown, the second to Joe DiMaggio and the third to Arthur Miller.
Rosenbergs (Executed For Conspiracy to Commit Espionage in 1953) Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were the only two people executed during the Communist Red Scare era in the United States. Three other people were indicted with them: David Greenglass, Harry Gold and Klaus Fuchs who served lengthy prison terms. Julius’ crime was leaking information about the Atomic Bomb to the Soviet Union. David Greenglass (Ethel’s brother) confessed that he implicated Ethel (who was innocent) to protect his wife who had typed up the information to pass along to the Soviets.
H-Bomb – The Hydrogen Bomb – Was first developed in the United States in 1952. A Hydrogen bomb’s explosion, comes from fusion – literally, the fusing of two hydrogen atoms to create a helium atom – the same process that occurs on our Sun. This reaction needs a tremendous amount of heat to occur, but it creates a much bigger blast by orders of magnitude. The catalyst (heat source) used to detonate a Hydrogen bomb is created by an Atomic bomb. Once the initial fusion reaction is underway, no further Atomic catalyst is needed; the heat and energy created is enough to sustain the reaction.
Sugar Ray Robinson (Walker Smith Jr. 1921-1989) – Was an American boxer with a 173-19-6 (2 no contests) record and is widely considered to be one of the greatest boxers of all time. He retired from boxing in 1965, broke. He spent the rest of his life acting in various movies and TV shows and founded The Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation for Inner City Los Angeles youth.
Panmunjom is an abandoned village in the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea. Panmunjom is also commonly understood to be the area where North and South Korean delegates have meetings, even though the building itself lies North of the Military Demarcation Line. North Korea has since renamed the building itself the Peace Museum and there is no evidence of the former city of Panmunjom on any map.
Brando (Marlon Brando 1924-2004) was an American film star and director. He is widely considered to be one of the most influential actors of the 20th Century and was in several pivotally famous movies including A Streetcar Named Desire, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and many others for which he received an Academy Award for his performance. Marlon Brando had a tumultuous career in and out of the press. He was a champion of the African American and Native American Civil Rights movement, but was very difficult to work with, prompting many people on film sets with him to quit. He is thought to have fathered as many as 17 children and could be the grandfather of Courtney Love.
The King And I – Was a multiple award winning play and movie written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, adapted from the book Anna and the King, written in 1944. The book was based on the personal accounts of Anna Leonowens who was The King of Siam’s governess in the 1860’s. The play was a huge success and was made into a movie starring Yul Brynner, who later went on to play the role of King of Siam a total of 4,625 times in productions of the King and I on stage.
The Catcher In The Rye – Is a very famous book written by J.D. Salinger in 1951. the book has been translated into most of the world’s main languages and although, originally written for adults, became popular teen fiction and is still a commonly assigned book in American High Schools. The book was controversial and many lobbied to have it banned due to some of its sexual content and language. Holden Caulfield, the main protagonist, is an icon of teenage angst and rebellion; although when Billy Joel wrote this song, Kurt Cobain had not yet killed himself thereby surpassing the fictional Holden Caulfield as a teenage icon. This book shares the uncommon distinction of simultaneously being the most banned book in the United States and the second most assigned reading in high schools.
Eisenhower (1890-1969) Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States who was a 5 Star General in WWII and led the invasions in North Africa, France and Germany. He was in power from 1953 to 1961. Eisenhower’s lasting contributions to the United States and the world include; establishing NASA, DARPA (developed the internet), the Interstate Highway System. He was preceded by Harry S. Truman and succeeded by John F. Kennedy.
Vaccine – A vaccine is a deactivated or weakened strain of a virus that is injected into the body so antibodies can learn to recognize the virus and build up an immunity against future exposures. As far back as 1000 AD, it was reported that a form of immunization called variolation was used to combat viruses. This involved exposing a person to a small amount of the live virus through a scratch in the skin; after which symptoms would develop and subside; usually a much milder case of the full disease resulting in immunity. This practise was common up until the 1800’s when Louis Pasteur created the cholera and anthrax vaccines. Variolation was banned in the 1880’s as it was seen as too risky.
England’s got a new queen – Queen Elizabeth II (1926-), born Elizabeth Alexandra, Mary was coronated in 1953 after her father, King George VI died in 1952. She was originally third in line for the throne after her uncle Edward VIII abdicated amid scandal as he wanted to marry a divorcee and his brother, George VI. But when George took over the throne from his brother, Elizabeth became next in line and began being educated in the ways of the monarchy when she was 10. She was 25 when she became Queen of England.
Marciano – Rocco (Rocky) Francis Marchegiano (1923-1969) was an American boxer and World Heavyweight Champion in the 1950’s, whose life was tragically cut short when he died as a passenger in a plane crash in 1969. He was the inspiration behind Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa character.
Liberace – Wladziu Valentino Liberace (1919-1987) was an American pianist known for his flamboyant, over the top style of performing. He held a record 21 sold out shows at Radio City Music Hall. He denied rumours that he was gay, even successfully suing publications who said he was. Against the wishes of his estate, an autopsy was performed and it was determined that he died of AIDS related pneumonia.
Santayana goodbye – George Santayana (1863-1952) was a Spanish American philosopher, essayist novelist and Harvard professor. While his teaching heavily influenced later authors such as T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein and Bertrand Russell, he is ironically well known for some of his eloquent, yet all encompassing aphorisms: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” and “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) was born Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin had the lengthy title of The General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; in short, the leader of the USSR from 1922 until his death in 1952. He, along with Trotsky were members of Lenin’s 5 member Politburo. During the 1920’s, Stalin became increasingly more dominant in Soviet politics until a series of events, including Lenin’s death placed him as the leader of the Communist party. Stalin was responsible for bring the Soviet Union out of agrarian society, while in the process, racking up a death toll estimated to be in the millions by executing political dissidents and placing millions into forced labor camps called Gulags. Stalin created a legacy of a cult of personality; likening himself in readings and works of art to a godlike figure. The end of his rule coincided with the beginning of the Cold War.
Malenkov (1902-1988) was born Georgy Maksimilianovich Malenkov, and was Chief of the Soviet Missile Program under Joseph Stalin. He was in power for two years following Stalin’s death, but was replaced by Khrushchev. He was instrumental in helping Stalin move the seat of Soviet power from Leningrad and St. Petersburg to Moscow. He fell out of favour, with the Soviet public when his work reforms led to mass food deficits and his struggles with the Kremlin and attempted take coup against Khrushchev had him fired from the Politburo. He lived in relative obscurity until is death at 86. He was a low ranking member of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Nasser (1918-1970) Gamel Abdel Nasser Hussein was the second President of Egypt and led a coup to dethrone King Farouk in 1952, and establish the Republic of Egypt. He was also responsible for establishing the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1964. One of his main focuses was to rid the Arab world of Western (mainly British) influence while instilling Arab pride in Egypt and abroad. As with many Muslim countries, Egypt’s relationship with Israel was tenuous at best and in 1955, Israel attacked the Gaza Strip. When it was clear that Nasser wasn’t going to get military or arms help from the West, he made a deal with the Warsaw Pact nations and acquired arms from Czechoslovakia; equalizing military strength and thus neutralizing Israeli threat. Afterwards, however, Nasser developed a Neutralist approach to the Cold War; mediating between the West and the Soviet Union in the conference at Bandung in Indonesia. Internationally, he pursued an agenda of Asian and African colonial independence and called for the withdrawal of France from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Nasser’s move to Nationalize the Suez Canal motivated, in part, but the UK’s and the US’s refusal to fund the Aswan Dam project; resulted in effectively taking control of all shipping traffic and ousting UK and French shareholders. This led to one of the few historical alliances between France and the UK who, with Israel, formulated a plot to overthrow Nasser, take control of the Canal and occupy a region in Egypt. President Eisenhower stepped in, forcing the UK, the US and Israel to withdraw; and further solidifying Nasser’s influence in the Muslim world. In Egypt, Nasser issued a Fatwa (essentially a Muslim verdict) to unite the different factions – mainly the Shia – into mainstream Islam. His leadership was, at times, rocky and his alliances with other Arabic nations waxed and waned, he was at times, seen as a bit of a dictator in his agricultural reforms domestically, and was integral in ridding Morocco and Algeria of French rule. He left a long standing legacy when he died from a heart attack in 1970.
Prokofiev (1891-1953) Sergei Prokofiev was a Russian composer, pianist and conductor whose most famous works include Peter and the Wolf, the Romeo and Juliet Ballet and War and Peace; inspired by the German invasion of Russia in 1941. During his younger years, he spent much of his time living abroad in the United States, Germany and France before eventually returning to Russia in the 1930;s when the Great Depression caused a major decrease in large stage productions and symphonies. He lived the rest of his life in Russia and was a dedicated Christian Scientist. In an unfortunate twist of fate, he died on the same day as Joseph Stalin and his death was relegated to the back pages of the Russian newspapers of the time.
Rockefeller (Nelson Rockefeller 1908-1979 and Winthrop Rockefeller 1912-1973) Nelson and Winthrop Rockefeller were both grandsons of Oil Magnate, John Rockefeller. Nelson held several different titles in his career including Assistant Secretary of State for American Public Affairs under Roosevelt and Truman, Undersecretary of Health, Education and Welfare under Eisenhower, Governor of New York and Vice President under Gerald Ford. Winthrop Rockefeller, to whom Billy Joel was likely referring, was Governor of Arkansas from 1967-1971 and set up a number of charities and scholarships to encourage economic development in Arkansas, as well as social and racial equality. He built a number of medical clinics in the State’s poorest neighborhoods and made regular financial contributions to the state’s colleges and universities.
Campanella (Roy Campanella 1921-1993) Campanella was a catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940’s and 50’s. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969. Campanella will be remembered in history, both for his baseball abilities and for his pivotal role in breaking down racial barriers in Major League sports; the son of a Sicilian immigrant dad and an African American mom, he played in the Negro league before making it into the Minor League and finally into the Major Leagues. Sadly, his baseball career was cut short when an automobile accident left him paralyzed in 1958. He continued to be an ambassador for the Major Leagues, working as a talent scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was memorialized on a US Postage Stamp.
Communist Bloc – At the end of WWII, Stalin sent trained Cadres into Central and Eastern European countries to influence the political process and install pro-Soviet, Communist governments, despite his assurances to the United States and Britain that he wouldn’t. Essentially, he installed puppet governments so it would appear that the ruling parties were elected democratically. The Communist Bloc or Eastern Bloc is a group of countries in Eastern and Central Europe that were politically aligned with the USSR. People in the Communist Bloc countries lived under constant surveillance for activities viewed as politically subversive – anyone who promoted a non Leninist-Marxist agenda by the Political Police. They were threatened with violence for non compliance. The Eastern Bloc countries were separated by, an in places physical border, but otherwise metaphorical border called the Iron Curtain. On the Western side was Democratic Capitalism and on the Eastern side was Single Party Communism. Countries in the Communist Bloc included East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, The Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Albania.
Roy Cohn (1927-1986) was a US Attorney who worked with Joseph McCarthy to investigate and eliminate Communist Activity in the United States. He and McCarthy were known for their less than above board tactics to root out and prosecute potential Soviet spies. He was one of the principle prosecutors in the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were executed in 1953. After the Red Scare effectively ended in the United States, Cohn worked as an attorney for 30 years; defending some well known personalities including Donald Trump and various members of the mafia. He was accused of attempting to get added to the will of Lewis Rosenstiel by forcing a copy of the will and a pen into Rosenstiel’s dying hands. The resulting signature was illegible and thrown out of court. He played an important role in winning New York during the Reagan campaign by working with Roger Stone to get John Anderson elected to the Liberal Party of New York; effectively dividing the Reagan’s opposition. After many years of questionable lawyering, Cohn was stripped of his license one month before his death in 1986.
Juan Peron (1895-1974) was the President of Argentina between 1946 and 1955 when he was overthrown in a coup d’etat. Juan Peron and his first wife, Eva Peron (Evita) were champions of Argentine labour rights, implemented social security system that covered 70% of the, then labour force. He nationalized a number of industries, taking over control from the British and French. He worked to increase wages across the country and supported labour unions in exchange for their political support. Before her death in 1952, Eva Peron was a champion for the poor and disadvantaged and was responsible gaining women’s suffrage in Argentina in 1947. Not surprisingly, Peron’s championship of the common worker garnered him the indemnity of the Upper Class Argentines. His decision to allow Argentina to be a safe refuge for Nazi war criminals did little to help the country’s relations with the United States. The Cold War was well under way, and the Red Scare was rampant in the United States. Argentina was seen by anti-Communist crusaders as a country sympathetic to Communism and therefore needed to be financially boycotted. This severely financially affected Argentina who exported the majority of their goods to the United States. Juan Peron was overthrown and exiled in 1955 for a few key reasons: one, he threatened to legalize divorce and prostitution which caused the Roman Catholic Church to ex-communicate him, secondly, the country was undergoing a serious economic crisis and thirdly, he deported two Catholic priests, effectively cutting off any support among church goers.
Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) was a world renowned, Italian musician and conductor famous for his perfectionism, intensity and passion. His resume includes being the music director for La Scala, The Metropolitan Opera in New York and the New York Philharmonic. Shortly before his death, he was appointed as the First Music Director for the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Photo Credit “Arturo Toscanini 1908” by Aime Dupont Studio, which was a well-known New York photographic studio, see here. Accordingly the United States is this photograph’s place of origin.
Dacron was launched in the United States as a miracle fabric that could be washed and worn without ironing. It followed on the heels of, first rayon, and acetate followed by Nylon which was widely used in parachutes and women’s hosiery in the 1930’s before World War II co opted of the Western Power’s nylon to supply the war efforts for rope, parachutes and airplane cords. Acrylic followed closely on the heels of Dacron, revolutionizing chores in the average American household: dryers were mass produced and widely available with a new generation of easy maintenance clothing.
Dien Bien Phu Falls in 1954 at the conclusion of the First Indochina War. Indochina is the southern peninsula of land that lies between mainland China and India; which was under French colonial rule. The French government’s intentions were to draw out Vietnamese Communist Nationalists, and overwhelm them with superior fire power. The plan majorly backfired and the French soldiers were completely outnumbered by more than three to one. Dien Bien Phu was the climactic conclusion of the war; that happened between March and May 1954 and forced the world to take notice of Vietnam’s growing need for independence from France. In the 1954 Geneva Accords, France relinquished control over Northern Vietnam at the 17th parallel to Ho Chi Minh and below the 17th parallel to Emperor Bao Dai with the agreement that there would be democratic elections held in 1956. This did not come pass resulting in the Second Indochina War, better known as the Vietnam War.
Rock Around the Clock was written in 1952 and popularized by Bill Haley and His Comets. The song is synonymous with 1950’s teenage rebellion and although is not the first Rock and Roll song to make it big, it was one of the first internationally recognized Rock and Roll songs to become popular.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was a German physicist and holds many claims to fame, but perhaps the best known are his General Theory of Relativity and his mass-energy Physics formula E=MC squared. Einstein was a brilliant scientist whose name has become synonymous with being highly intelligent. He happened to be visiting the United States when Hitler got into office and decided to not go back to Germany – a wise decision on his part and the US was happy to have him. He officially renounced his German citizenship. The Nazi government removed his name for the the University teaching roster, seized his cottage and his boat. His cottage was converted into an Aryan Youth Camp, as a further slap in the face. He wrote a letter to Franklin Roosevelt explaining that Germany was working on powerful new bomb technology and the United States should begin research in this area. This correspondence led to what would become the Manhattan Project.
James Dean (1931-1955) was an American film star with three movie credits to his name: Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden and Giant. He became the first American actor to receive a posthumous Oscar Nomination for Leading Actor. His early death, at the age of 24 solidified his image as an anguished, misunderstood young rebel. Although he was romantically linked with many young women, it was rumoured that he may have had a few sexual trysts with men.
Brooklyn’s got a winning team! In the 1955 Baseball World Series, two teams from New York played against each other in the final; and the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees after having lost to them 5 times in 9 years.
Davy Crockett was a Disney movie compilation of the three television shows of the same name: Davy Crockett Indian Fighter, Davy Crockett Goes To Congress and Davy Crockett at the Alamo. Davy Crockett was played by Fess Parker, who because of the success with which he played this role, accompanied by the song The Ballad of Davy Crockett became forever typecast as the typical American Frontiersman. This movie launched the whole coonskin cap style popular with the young men of that time.
Peter Pan refers either to the Disney movie released in 1953 or the 1954 multiple Tony winning Broadway play that was rebroadcast on television in 1955, 1956 and 1960.
Elvis Presley was/is an American pop music icon and one of the most important founders of Rock and Roll music, and a film star. He is known as the King of Rock and Roll or as simply “The King”. He, along with the Kennedy family is the closest the United States has to royalty. He began his career in the 1950’s before being drafted into the Army. He was able to record songs while on leave and lost very little traction in his career as a result. He met Priscilla Beaulieu during this time and they wed 7 years later after a lengthy courtship. Elvis and Priscilla had one child together; Lisa Marie Presley before divorcing in 1973. Elvis was romantically linked with a number of famous women including Natalie Wood, Connie Stevens, Anne Margret, Candice Bergen and Cybill Shepherd. He struggled with drug dependency dating back to his time in the Army, which was the major contributing cause of his death by heart failure in 1977 at the age of 44.
Disneyland was a theme park built in Anaheim, California in 1955, overseen by Walt Disney and inspired by his travels to amusement parks with his daughters in the 1930’s. Despite the overwhelming popularity of the Disney franchise today, in 1955, opening day for the park was a public relations disaster. Traffic jams delayed the visits of famous guests who were to arrive every two hours like clockwork throughout the day. The drinking fountains were inoperable on an extremely hot day and the freshly poured asphalt was so soft, that women’s high heels sunk into it. After a disastrous opening day, Disney invited key people back the next day to show them how everything should run properly. It must have been successful. Disneyland franchises around the world include Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disney Resort, and Shanghai Disney Resort.
Brigitte Bardot (1934-) is a French actress, model and animal rights activist who retired from her acting career in 1973 after starring in more than 40 motions pictures. She has dedicated the rest of her life towards protecting animals and has garnered international notice by boldly writing to governmental leaders chastising them for allowing animals to be mistreated in their country: Canada for its seal hunt, Denmark for its Dolphin hunt, China for its tiger and bear hunts and more recently, Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska for failing to protect the polar bears in the face of oil exploration. She has never been afraid of controversy and has been fined several thousand Euros, multiple times for inciting racial hatred in her criticism of the growing Muslim population in France. She remains politically active to this day.
Budapest – An anti-Communist revolution took place in Budapest, Hungary in 1956. Hungary was one of the Soviet Puppet countries under the Warsaw Pact. This rebellion started as a student demonstration that was marching to the Parliament buildings, but was soon joined by thousands of people countrywide. Anti Soviet political prisoners were released and armed to fight against the State Security Police (AVH) who open fired on the group. The protesters were demanding a return to Democratically run elections. The Politburo agreed to negotiate a withdrawal of Soviet troops, but went back on their word and invaded Hungary. By 1957, a Communist government was restored and all resistance was crushed. 700 Soviet Troops and 2500 Hungarians died in this 2 and a half week revolution. It was the first real anti-Communist revolt of its kind in Eastern Europe and laid the groundwork for future political unrest in the region. Due to the brutal bad faith negotiating on behalf of the Soviet Union, many Western, pro Marxist supporters renounced their Communist Party memberships.
Alabama – Rosa Parks, an African American Civil Rights Activist refused to give up her seat to a white passenger in the racially segregated public transportation system of Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. (Interestingly enough, when I was researching this article, there isn’t any mention of Rosa Parks ANYWHERE on the Wikipedia page about the state of Alabama). Her refusal to move sparked a nationwide debate about desegregation. Her name and action became a a metaphor for standing up for human rights. Rosa Parks was an active member of the NAACP and worked closely with a budding young civil rights activist named Martin Luther King Jr.
Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) was the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (in laymen’s terms, the leader of the USSR) from 1953 to 1964, following Joseph Stalin’s death. While Stalin was alive, Khrushchev was an ally and close advisor, and defended Stalin’s Great Purge; agreeing that enemies of the state (anyone who disagreed with Stalin) needed to be found and either sent to the Gulags (work camps; similar in scope to Nazi Concentration Camps) or executed. tens of thousands were detained and/or executed as a direct result of Khrushchev’s actions. Nonetheless, after Stalin died in 1953, Khrushchev vehemently denounced Stalin’s political views and began relaxing political and travel restrictions in the Soviet Union. Stalin allowed very few people to enter or exit the USSR under his rule. Khrushchev encouraged foreign interest and travel both into and out of the USSR. He was perhaps, most well known for his role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Essentially, the USSR, under Khrushchev’s leadership developed a very successful ICBM program; starting the “Space Race”. The USSR launched Sputnik 1 into Earth’s orbit in 1957. This alarmed the United States and led them to believe that the USSR’s weapon technology was much further advanced than they had originally thought. In 1962, the USSR began installing medium range nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba which was less than 100 miles of the US coast. A nuclear crisis was narrowly averted resulting in the USSR withdrawing the installations in exchange for promises from the US not to invade Cuba and to remove their nuclear weapons from Turkey – essentially the USSR’s backyard. He was succeeded by Leonid Brezhnev.
Princess Grace – A.K.A. Grace Kelly (1929-1982) was an American actress and film star who had a very prolific career with MGM in the 1950’s before she married Rainier III, Prince of Monaco in 1956. She was prohibited from acting once she was married. 9 months and 4 days after the wedding ceremony, Princess Grace gave birth to their first child Caroline. Their second, Albert, became Albert II Prince of Monaco after his father’s death in 2004. Princess Grace died in 1982 when a stroke caused her to crash her car and careen over a winding mountain road. She died the next day from her injuries.
Peyton Place was a controversial novel and later movie, written by Grace Metalious that chronicled life in a small, fictional New England town called Peyton Place. The characters are based on people known by Grace Metalious and her husband. The novel is of note because of the controversial subject matter covered: incest, poverty, infidelity, murder and children born out of wedlock; all pretty taboo subjects for the 1956. Although, Metalious consulted on the film, she ended up hating the end result because it sanitized some of the more controversial subjects covered. The film ended up being the second highest grossing movie of 1958.
Trouble in the Suez – Egypt in the late 1950’s began building the Aswan Dam; which was to become a major source of hydroelectric power and crop irrigation for the country. The Dam construction was aided by international investment; mainly from the United States and the United Kingdom who, in the heat of the Cold War, withdrew funding for the project when Nasser, President of Egypt made overtures to ally with the Soviet Union. In order to keep funding the vital Aswan Dam project, Nasser moved to nationalize the Suez Canal Authority, a move that would put the Canal under full Egyptian authority and all of the revenue generated from the Canal would go to Egypt. This move to Nationalization prompted France, the UK and Israel to invade Egypt. Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister of Canada won a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in de escalating the war when, he persuaded British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden that this the war was a bad idea. Pearson petitioned for the UN’s involvement leading to the first ever UN Peacekeeping Mission – in the Sinai Peninsula – the main hot spot of hostilities between Israel and Egypt.
Little Rock, Arkansas became another hotbed of the American Civil Rights movement, when in 1957, 9 African American Students were hassled by over 1000 white protestors and the Arkansas National Guard on orders from State Governor Orval Faubus to prevent them from entering the school, despite a U.S. Supreme Court order to desegregate the national public school system in 1954. President Eisenhower intervened by sending in the U.S. Army’s 101 Air Force Division to let the 9 students to enter. Eisenhower further took control of the situation by nationalizing the Arkansas Guard, putting them under the control of the U.S. Government and not under the authority of Governor Faubus. Although this incident garnered national and international attention, in 1960/61, desegregation fell down because the Little Rock city government could not afford to pay for the ongoing security needed to enforce it. Little Rock Central High School was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1982.
Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) was a Russian Poet and novelist, best known in the West, perhaps for his novel Dr. Zhivago published in 1957 which was set in Russia between 1905 and World War II. Pasternak’s book was awarded the Nobel Prize For Literature. Declassified CIA documents released in 2014 implicate their role in pressuring the Nobel Prize Committee to choose Pasternak for the prize. The CIA’s goal was to create controversy within the Soviet Union by garnering world support for a book said to be critical of Communism. Their plan worked. The Communist Party leadership right up to Khrushchev himself, denounced Pasternak and Dr. Zhivago and told Pasternak that if he were to leave the USSR to collect his prize, he would not be allowed back in. Due to overwhelming pressure at home, Pasternak declined the invitation to receive the award. In 1989, Yevgenii Borisovich Pasternak, travelled to Sweden to receive his father’s award. Khrushchev expressed regret towards the end of his life over slandering Pasternak’s book stating that if he had read it in his lifetime, he would have seen very little evidence of anti Communist sentiments.
Mickey Mantle (1931-1995) was an American baseballer from Oklahoma who played his entire professional career for the New York Yankees, first as Centre Fielder and then as Left Fielder. He won the league trophy for MVP two years in a row, both in 1956 and 1957. He won MVP a total of three times in his career. At that point, he was the only switch hitter to win the Triple Crown. A switch hitter is a batter who can bat left handed or right handed. Typically, a left handed batter hits better with a right handed pitcher and vice versa. The Triple Crown is awarded to a player who leads the statistic boards in three or more categories, such as home runs, batting average, or runs batted in.
Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) was an American author and one of the core writers to make up the Beat Generation – a generation of authors whose pivotal works were published in the 1950’s. The Beat Generation were known for their chronicling of post WWII existence and rejection of the traditional societal narratives, sexual and drug experimentation. Kerouac’s, perhaps best known work was written in 1951, but not published until 1957, On the Road. Kerouac details his experience of traveling around the United States and Mexico with his close friend in the 1940’s. The original manuscript was more sexually graphic, and as a result needed strict editing before finally being published by Viking in 1957. Kerouac struggled with severe depression and alcoholism which eventually led to his death in 1969.
Sputnik was the Earth’s first artificial satellite, sent into low orbit on October 4, 1957 by the USSR; sparking international controversy, fueling Cold War tensions and sending the major World superpowers into an international space race. The United States and President Eisenhower responded by creating the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA or DARPA), which is still very much active.
Chou En-Lai (1898-1976) was the first Premier and Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong, and was largely responsible for re establishing relationships between China and the Western Powers after the Korean War. He was instrumental in administering the Great Leap Forward; Mao Zedong’s attempt to industrialize China. It is said that Chou En-Lai was responsible for making Mao’s hardline policies more palatable to Chinese citizens and “minimizing” (quotes are used ironically) China’s death toll at 45 million people!! To put this number of deaths in perspective: it is the entire population of Canada; plus another third on top of that! Chou spent much of his political career trying to soften the blow that Mao’s political policies caused. He was widely loved by the workers of China and upon his death, Mao would allow no public demonstrations of grief for fear that those demonstrations would be seen as anti-Mao.
Bridge On The River Kwai – This movie was released in 1957 and is widely considered to be one of the best movies of all time; taking home an impressive 7 Academy Awards. The movie is based on the novel by Pierre Boulle called La Pont de la Riviere Kwai. Although fictional, the book is loosely based on the events surrounding the building of the bridge over the Mae Klong river in Burma taking its inspiration from reports of French soldiers who were Japanese War Prisoners. The movie was seen as anti-British by some and derogatory of the Japanese engineering efforts in the building the Burmese railway in 1942-1943.
Lebanon – In 1958, Lebanese president, Camille Chamoun appealed to the United States to help stop the riots instigated by Lebanese Muslims who wanted to make Lebanon a member of the United Arab Republic. 5000 US Marines were dispatched to Lebanon in 1958 to stop the rioting. Interestingly, Lebanon is a Confessionalist Parliamentary Democracy where there is an unwritten pact within the country that all of the major religious groups are represented in the ruling government: The President must be a Maronite Christian, its Speaker of the Parliament be a Shiite Muslim, its Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Speaker of the Parliament be Greek Orthodox. Lebanon is the most religiously diverse of all the Middle Eastern nations with 18 recognized religious groups in government.
Charles de Gaulle – Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) was returned to power by the request of the weakened French 4th Republic in 1958 during the Algerian War of Independence after a 12 year political hiatus. After a series of military defeats in Indo-China and in the face of increasing Algerian rebel forces, France’s government was weak and disjointed. As a result, French military commanders in Algeria, worried that France would completely abandon it as a French stronghold, planned to send armed paratroopers into Paris to take control of the government. The Fourth Republic appealed to de Gaulle who willingly jumped at the chance to serve his country. With his power confirmed, French soldiers in Algeria abandoned their plan to invade Paris to take control of the government (called Operation Resurrection) believing de Gaulle to be the leadership France needed to get back on track as a world leader.
California baseball – In 1958, with the deterioration of Ebbets Field in New York (home of the Brooklyn Dodgers) and The New York Giants’, Polo Grounds, team owners decided to move the franchises to California. The Brooklyn Dodgers became the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Giants became the San Francisco Giants. The move was made easier with the popularity and ease of traveling by air as opposed to train, making it easier to play games with league teams on the other side of the continent.
Starkweather Homicide – Charles Starkweather (1938-1959) was a serial killer from Nebraska who, along with his 14 year old accomplice girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate murdered 11 people in a two month killing spree between December 1957 and January 1958. He was sentenced to death by electric chair and was executed in June, 1959. Fugate served 17 years in prison and was released in 1976.
Children of Thalidomide – Thalidomide was a drug prescribed for pregnant women suffering from morning sickness in the 1950’s. At that time, there had been little to no research done on medications taken by mothers to be and scientists did not believe that drugs would cross the placental barrier. There were over 10,000 reported cases of phocomelia; a rare birth defect causing malformed limbs and in some cases, hearts and eyes. The majority of these cases were caused by Thalidomide poisoning. Of the estimated 10,000 cases, only 50% of the babies born with thalidomide phocomelia died as a result.
Buddy Holly (1936-1959) – Buddy Holly nee Holley, was an important musician in the 1950’s and along with a few others, played a pivotal role in establishing the Rock and Roll Genre of music. He was born in Lubbock, Texas. During his career, he recorded under the Decca and Brunswick labels and was known for fighting to keep artistic control over his music – which he wrote and performed; leading to a clash with Decca and subsequent defection to Brunswick (which he later learned was a subsidiary of Decca. Buddy Holly died in a plane crash in 1959 along with Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, Tommy Alsup and the pilot, Roger Peterson. The Big Bopper had taken Waylon Jenning’s place on the plane, saving Jenning’s life. Holly’s wife learned of her husband’s death by watching the news. She miscarried shortly afterwards; which caused the policy of news television to change to protect the names of the deceased until immediate family were notified of their death. The Beatles’ Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s early lyrics were inspired by Buddy Holly’s work.
Ben-Hur was released by MGM in 1959 and is considered to be one of the best movies of all time, taking home a record 11 Academy Awards; a feat not paralleled or beaten until Titanic was released in 1997. Ben Hur is based on Lew Wallace’s novel Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ. This film chronicles the life of Judah Ben Hur; a Jewish prince and merchant around the time of the Roman’s prosecution of Jesus Christ with the movie ending on the climax of Jesus’ death and the manifestation of his Holy Spirit saving the lives of Ben Hur’s mother and sister. This huge budget movie was created in special effects’ infancy. Every set and every costume was painstakingly created by hundreds of workers and was filmed over a period of 8 months, with nearly everyone involved working 12-14 hour days, 6 days a week.
Space Monkey – Starting in 1948, the United States sent a number of non-human primates into space to study the effects of space travel on the human body. All died until in 1959, Able and Miss Baker safely returned to Earth. Miss Baker survived until 1984 while Able died later on that same year from surgical complications. France and the Soviet Union also launched primates into the space in later decades.
Mafia – In the late 1950’s, the Apalachin Meeting (as it was informally known), a meeting of mafia bosses from around New York was discovered by the New York police and a number of prominent mafia members were arrested. It was this event that forced the FBI to recognize organized crime as a problem in the United States. In the 1960’s the FBI began to offer immunity and/or reduced sentences to mafioso who were willing to testify against bigger mafia threats.
Hula Hoops – A circular toy sensation that hit the United States with a vengeance in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and were a featured as a fun side note in the popular film The Hudsucker Proxy. Hula Hoops in various incarnations have been used around the world; and were invented long before the US fitness craze.
Fidel Castro (1926 – ) was the Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976 and the President of Cuba from 1976 to 2008 when he transferred leadership to his brother, Raul Castro. He began his career as a politically naive lawyer who quickly got up to speed on world politics and declaring himself a Marxist-Leninist. He was very critical of the United States and, while in power, allied with the USSR; and denied being associated with the Communist Party until 1961 when he became the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. Castro nationalized healthcare and education, redistributed land from wealthy landowners to 1000’s of peasants who received titles to the land they were working. Castro prohibited foreigners from buying property in Cuba. He opened schools and health clinics across the country. While a lot of Cubans applauded his efforts, many middle and upper class citizens relocated to Florida in a mass “brain drain”. Castro is perhaps best known for his role in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 which almost resulted in WWIII. Castro allowed the Soviet Union to install nuclear missile launch pads on Cuban soil; which was less than 100 kilometres off the coast of the United States. Kennedy and Khrushchev were able to negotiate a peaceful resolution. Castro is a controversial figure; simultaneously being lauded as a humanitarian, anti-imperialist Socialist, while at the same time being accused of being a totalitarian dictator and abuser of human rights.
Edsel (1958-1960) was a vehicle manufactured by the Ford Motor Company whose name has become synonymous with a marketing flop. The Edsel failed to distinguish itself from the other Ford brands (Ford, Mercury and Lincoln) leaving the consumer confused about what quality product they were buying – was this an upmarket car like the Lincoln or a mid market car like the Mercury? The Edsel’s unique front grill and body style was not market tested with consumers before the car was launched; a mistake, many believe to be Edsel’s main failure. Although a collector’s item now, as there are only 10,000 models left in existence, selling for up to $100,000 per car, despite the 350 million dollar loss sustained by Ford. The last of the Edsels were launched in early 1960 and while the Edsel Comet was on the production line for 1960, Ford quickly rebranded the Comet under the Lincoln-Mercury line.
U-2 – In 1960, an American U-2 spy plane, was shot down in Soviet Airspace. The pilot, Gary Powers deployed his parachute and survived the crash to be captured and imprisoned by Soviet Intelligence, who, initially, did not tell the Americans that he had been captured alive. This led to an embarrassing public relations debacle for then President, Dwight Eisenhower who, initially attempted to cover up the fact that the U-2 was on a recognizant mission to collect data about Inter ballistic Missile launch sites in the Soviet Union. The cover up story stated that the plane was a weather research aircraft whose pilot was having difficulty with the oxygen system on board. This cover up attempt was particularly embarrassing for the US because at the time this “story” was launched, they didn’t know that Powers was still alive and had given all the details about his mission to his Soviet captors. Furthermore, photographs were recovered from the plane of IBM sites, leaving no doubt as to the US government’s intentions. Eisenhower was forced to come clean in an historic speech to the US people, detailing, that although secret spy missions such as this one were distasteful, they were a necessary evil. This whole incident occurred just weeks before the Four Power Paris Summit was to have brought the US, The Soviet Union, France and Great Britain together to discuss nuclear arms control. The summit was derailed when Eisenhower refused to apologize and Khrushchev left after the first day.
Syngman Rhee (1875-1965) was the President of South Korea from 1948 to 1960 and led the country through the Korean War. He is known to be a brutal, corrupt, authoritarian leader who would do away with any serious political threats. He was supported by the American government, because he was an outspoken anti Communist, spoke fluent English (unlike many of his contemporaries in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s) and was familiar with American culture and political systems. Rhee was covertly flown out of South Korea shortly after winning his 4th term in office. He didn’t win by fair means, and the country was openly staging protests against his rule. He spent the rest of his life in exile in Honolulu, Hawaii with his Austrian born wife, Franziska Donner and their adopted son.
Payola – the “pay to play” scandal that hit the US in 1959 and 1960. Most radio stations are public domain and therefore are governed by laws preventing them from favoring one artist over another due to financial considerations. The most famous case involving Payola – paying a DJ to play a specific artist’s album was Alan Freed, a well respected American DJ who was widely thought to have coined the term “Rock and Roll”. He was accused of accepting bribes to play albums and refused to cooperate in the investigation, effectively ruining his career in the process. Dick Clark and American Bandstand was accused of Payola as well; but he fully cooperated with investigators and sold his shares in music publishing and recording companies to avoid the appearance of bias. Payola on this small scale isn’t a big concern any longer as most radio station DJ’s have no control over the content of their shows; much of it being selected and pre recorded by station executives.
John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was the 35th President of the United States; his term ran from 1961-1963. He was the second youngest man to be elected president; one year older than Theodore Roosevelt. Kennedy and his family where such charismatic characters that their leadership and role in American Politics was likened to the legend of Camelot. They were also referred to as American Royalty as they were probably the closest the US would ever come to having a monarchy. He is perhaps best known for the role he played in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 when US planes discovered the Soviets constructing intermediate range ballistic missile sites in Cuba. Although, many in his congregation favoured attacking Cuba, Kennedy, instead chose to remove US missiles that had been installed in Turkey in exchange for the Soviet Union removing their missiles from Cuba. This is thought to be the closest the world has ever come to Nuclear War. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald, who was in turn assassinated by Jack Ruby two days later.
Chubby Checker, a.k.a. is an American Rock and Roller who is best known for his hit cover of Hank Ballard’s, The Twist. The song and its accompanying dance moves is known the world over and several different variations of “The Twist” have been released, allowing Evans to fully capitalize on the phenomenon. He was a millionaire at 22 years old. Variants include The Twist, Let’s Twist Again, Slow Twistin’, Twistin U.S.A. and Twistin’ Round the World. Of particular interest is how he chose the Chubby Checker moniker – it is a tip of the hat to Fats Domino – quite clever if you think about it! Chubby Checker’s, The Twist, was released in 1960.
Psycho – was a American Horror movie released in 1960, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and adapted from the book with the same name by Robert Bloch. The movie, Psycho was an important pioneer in the slasher film genre, and it overtly showcased some very controversial issues, which, at the time that had not really been addressed in popular American Cinema until that point: sexuality and mental illness. Perhaps the best known movie scene in American film history happens at the climax of the movie when Vivian Leigh’s character, Marion Crane was murdered in the famous “shower scene”. Psycho is known for a few other American cinema firsts: an unmarried couple sharing the same bed, and a shot of a toilet flushing. There were several sequels and adaptations which were released after Hitchcock’s death in 1980. Psycho is considered by many to be Alfred Hitchcock’s best movie and still holds its own against modern suspense/horror movies.
Belgians in the Congo – In 1885, King Leopold II of the Belgians decided to explore, and colonize the fertile region of the Congo, which due to malaria, and sleeping sickness, was largely untouched by European explorers. King Leopold II ruled the “Congo Free State” until 1908 when the Belgian government took over rule of the country, renaming it the “Belgian Congo”. The area was rich in mineral and plant resources; of particular note; copper and rubber tree plantations. Copper was extensively used in both WWI and WWII and copper exports from the Belgian Congo helped fund Belgium’s involvement in both wars. Eventually, as happens in most colonial situations, the Congolese people wanted independence from European rule, which was officially granted in 1960 when it was renamed the Republic of Congo. In the mid 1970’s President Mobutu renamed the country Zaire. In the late 1990’s Mobutu was ousted from power and the new leader, Laurent Desire Kabila renamed the country The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Laurent’s son, Joseph took power when his father was assassinated.
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was an American author and reporter who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954. While he was famous for a number of works including A Farewell to Arms (1929) and The Old Man and the Sea (1951) he was also a famous foreign correspondent having written for the Toronto Star travelling all over the world to follow major news stories. During his time in Paris, he rubbed shoulders with famous writers Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ezra Pound who greatly influenced his writing. Hemingway subscribed to the Iceberg Theory of writing; the words of the story are propelled by the unwritten, implied ideas that lay beneath the surface of the writing. The power comes from what is NOT written, rather than what is written. Hemingway died of a self inflicted gunshot wound in 1961, one of several members of his family to die from suicide including his father, his brother, his sister and his granddaughter. It is believed that hemochromatosis, a genetic disease his father suffered from was a major contributing factor; a disease where the body cannot metabolize iron contributing to mental and physical deterioration.
Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962) was a German SS officer who was directly responsible for the deaths of 437,000 Hungarian Jews after Germany invaded Hungary in 1944 which continued even after he was given the order to stop transporting Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. Between 10 and 25% of people sent to Auschwitz were chosen for forced labour positions. The rest were executed. After WWII, Eichmann emigrated to Argentina under a false passport where he was promoted into a top position with Mercedes Benz. He was found by Mossad operatives and tried in Israel for war crimes. He was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging in 1962.
Stranger in a Strange Land is a book published by Robert A. Heinlein about an Earthling raised on Mars who returns to Earth as an adult. It is a critical examination of politics, religion and human dynamics and is widely considered to be one of the best works of Science Fiction ever written. The novel deals with controversial topics which, at that time it was published, led to it being removed from school reading lists and banned from their libraries; almost entirely based on the ideas of free love and polyamory addressed in the book. Stranger in a Strangeland introduced the word “Grok” into the English language; meaning literally “to drink” but figuratively to “comprehend, love and be one with”. Interestingly, a religion was founded, based on the one in the book started by Smith (the human raised by Martians) called The Church of All Worlds; a registered religious organization in California with members worldwide.
Bob Dylan (1941 -) born Robert Allen Zimmerman is an American singer and songwriter who is famous for his role in the counterculture movement of the 1960’s. He adopted “Dylan” as his last name based on his love of Dylan Thomas’ work. His songs tackle political and social issues of the time. He is an outspoken culture and media critic and is widely believed to be one of the most important musicians of the 20th Century. He was heavily criticized for converting to Christianity in the 1970’s; becoming “born again”; but Bob Dylan was never a person to let criticism of his personal life shape his artistic integrity. He has continued to produce socially important music, both religious and secular and at the time of this writing is still very musically active and socially relevant.
Berlin – in 1961, the Soviet Union constructed the Berlin Wall; a wall surrounding West Berlin from East Berlin and East Germany. West Berlin was entirely within the borders of East Germany. At the time of its construction, the Soviets told East Germans that the wall was for their protection from “fascist” West Germany. Before construction and completion of the Wall; 3 and half million East German citizens emmigrated into West Germany to escape the Communist Eastern Bloc. Built under the guise of “protection” fascist west (explained by propaganda at the time), it was actually built to stop the hemorrhaging of people out of Communist East Germany. The Wall was opened in 1989, with the reunification of Germany and destroyed between 1990 and 1992. There are portions of the Wall in tact as a memorial and living museum.
Bay of Pigs invasion – In 1961, the United States, concerned about the rise of Communist power in Cuba and the recent overthrow of the US friendly leader, Fulgencio Batista, by Fidel Castro invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Fidel Castro took control of the military operation and defeated the US invasion in three days. The attack was carried out by a secret branch of the CIA called Brigade 2506, a paramilitary group funded by Eisenhower’s government. Fallout from the Bay of Pigs Invasion led to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Lawrence of Arabia is a film, released in 1962 that chronicled the life of T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935), a British Archaeologist, and soldier who served during WWI and was essential in helping King Faisal overthrow the Ottoman Turks in Arabia; allowing Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria to become sovereign countries. Peter O’Toole was cast in the roll of T.E. Lawrence after it was turned down by several well known actors at the time. There is much debate over the historical accuracy of the people and events surrounding Lawrence’s time in Arabia, but he film itself, is considered to be one of the most influential and important pieces of cinematic history and won 7 Academy awards at the 45th Annual Academy Awards ceremonies.
British Beatlemania refers to the fan fervor directed towards the newly popular band, The Beatles when they released Please Please Me and She Loves You in 1963. Old news footage shows scores of female fans screaming, crying, fainting and jockeying for position to get close to the Beatles. This collective fan madness continued across the Atlantic when the Beatles landed at JFK in New York in 1964. The Beatles performed their last live performance in 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. They were worn out by the constant touring and interviews and the were frustrated because the fans were screaming so loudly and in such a high pitch that people attending their concerts could scarcely hear the performance. They were having a difficult time finding venues big enough to support their legions of fans. So; with the band’s internal strife and personal issues in addition to the inability to play their music for fans to actually hear it; they broke up in 1970.
Ole Miss, a.k.a., The University of Mississippi was desegregated in the early 1960’s, but it took the courage of US Air Force veteran and African American, James Meredith to claim what was lawfully granted to him: an education at the University of Mississippi, which, along with the entire State of Mississippi, was very segregationist. Meredith made three attempts to enter the campus to attend classes and all three attempts were blocked by the Governor who would not sanction desegregation while he was in power. Finally, the US Marshals intervened, and Meredith was able to enroll in classes on September 30, 1962. Even though he was lawfully allowed to attend classes, he was badly harassed by students. Despite these challenges, Meredith graduated with a degree in Political Science in 1963. He went on to complete his Law degree at Columbia and worked as an advisor for Senator Jesse Helms. Although he is an important historical figure in the Civil Rights movement, he did not consider himself to be a civil rights activist and chafed against the label; believing that this attitude perpetuated the idea that African Americans were second class citizens.
John Glenn (1921 – ) is the first American to orbit the Earth and the 5th person to go to space. He flew the Project Mercury spacecraft, the Friendship 7 in 1962. He retired from NASA in 1964 and became a US Senator for Ohio in 1974. He served in the Senate until 1999. John Glenn was the oldest man to go to space, when at age 77, he flew in the Space Shuttle as a payload specialist on Discovery’s STS-95 mission.
Liston beats Patterson – In 1962, Sonny Liston beat Heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson. Liston was rumoured to have mob ties and the NAACP was worried that the fight would perpetuate the “African American Thug” stereotype. Liston lost the title to Muhammad Ali in 1964. He continued to box professionally until a fight with Leotis Martin in 1969 resulted in a detached retina, ending his career. In 1971, his wife found him dead in their bedroom. There are conflicting reports about the cause of his death. Some believe he was murdered. Others believe it was a drug overdose. His body was too decomposed to conclusively rule either way.
Pope Paul – Born Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini (1897-1978) was the 262nd Catholic Pope, preceded by Pope John XXIII and succeeded by Pope John Paul I who reigned for just 33 days. The pope is the figurehead of the Catholic Church and their highest authority, save for God, of course. He is perhaps best known for writing the Humanae vitae; an Encyclical document reaffirming the traditional position of the Catholic church on birth control and adoption; stating that no forms of artificial birth control are permissible as they interfere with God’s most important role for a husband and wife to carry out: procreation. A married couple is allowed to employee Natural Family Planning so as to take advantage of a woman’s natural cycles of fertility. Also; a body cannot be altered by surgical means to prevent pregnancy unless infertility is a side effect of a necessary treatment (removing the uterus in the case of cancer, for example). He was criticized by both the traditionalists and the liberalists within the organization for taking a moderate stance on many issues.
Malcolm X (1925-1965) was an African American civil rights activist who wasn’t above breaking the law to achieve equality for blacks in the United States. He believed that peaceful resistance was not always the right method to gain equal rights. He advocated against racism; and stressed that African American’s needed to let go of their racism against caucasian Americans. He began his political career in prison when he converted to Islam and became a member of the Black Muslims – an extremist black and Islamic group. He began preaching their beliefs when he was released from prison, but later abandoned this group in favour of more moderate Islamic teachings that did not support such strong racist attitudes. He was assassinated by Thomas Hagan, a member of the Black Muslims who, in addition to being angry that Malcolm X was slandering their leader Elijah Muhammad, was incited to violence by the Black Muslim’s accusation that Malcolm X was planning violent attacks against the Black Muslims. He was murdered on Feb 21, 1965.
British Politician Sex – John Profumo was the British Secretary of State for War in the early 1960’s who was forced to resign when he, as a married man, had a brief affair with 19 year old Christine Keeler. Details of the affair were not discovered until a few years later in 1963 when the newspapers leaked the story. Profumo, who had been under suspicion for having the affair with Keeler and with the backing of the Conservative government under Harold MacMillan, denied the allegations up until that point. He was forced to resign and never returned to public political life. MacMillan resigned shortly afterwards and it is thought the Profumo Scandal had prompted his resignation.
John Kennedy (a.k.a J.F.K.) was assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas, having served a mere two years as 35th President of the United States. Although Lyndon Johnson created the Warren Commission to investigate the details of JFK’s assassination, it was determined that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone as the only shooter. Oswald denied his guilt, but never made it to trial as he was murdered by Jack Ruby just 2 days after Kennedy’s assassination. To this day, the majority of Americans believe Kennedy’s assassination was a conspiracy and that Oswald did not act alone.
Birth control – The Birth Control Pill (a.k.a. The Pill) was first marketed by Searle in the US in 1960 as Enovid, and was initially prescribed to treat women with menstrual disorders, although drug trials as early as 1956 and 1957 in Puerto Rico and Los Angeles indicated that in lower dosages, Enovid was an effective oral contraceptive. At first, the FDA only approved Enovid for treatment of menstrual disorders and denied a separate petition to allow its use as a contraceptive until 1960. Enovid was not available to married women in all states until 1965 and not for single women until 1972; sparking a sexual revolution for women. Searle (known for the Birth Control Pill and Nutrasweet) is a subsidiary of Pfizer known for Viagra and Prozac.
Ho Chi Minh, “he who has been enlightened in Sino-Vietnamese” (1890-1969) helped lead the Vietnamese forces against the French occupation, wrote the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence and successfully succeeded from France in 1945. In 1954, Minh established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam; a Communist government headquartered in Hanoi (northern Vietnam) while anti communist groups settled in the south. The United States, Britain and South Vietnam pushed for a democratically elected leader of a united Vietnam under the supervision of the United Nations; a plan rejected by the North Vietnamese. Minh invaded Laos in 1959 in order to build a supply route to supply the Viet Cong uprising in South Vietnam. This supply route was called the Ho Chi Minh trail; which ran from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam. A man of contrasts, he was vicious against his political opponents in Vietnam; responsible for thousands upon thousands of deaths during his regime, he was very well educated abroad and spoke fluent English, French, Russian, Cantonese, Mandarin and Vietnamese. He didn’t live long enough to see the end of fighting in the Vietnam war. He died in 1969 before he say the unification of his country under Communist rule. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh city in 1976 although southern Vietnamese around the world harbour anti communist sentiments and still refer to Ho Chi Minh city under it’s original name, Saigon.
Richard Nixon back again (1913-1995) – Was the 37th President of the United States and was in office from 1969 to 1974. While he his reasons for resigning office are very well known – the Watergate scandal, he was also known domestically for creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and enforcing desegregation in the public school system as well as implementing the first large scale Affirmative Action Plan. He was instrumental in opening up relations international relations with China. He gave aid to Israel in the Yom Kippur war, angering Middle Eastern countries and creating the Oil Crisis of 1973 when OPEC members refused to sell oil to the United States. His legacy of rule is bitter sweet.
Moonshot – On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon fulfilling President Kennedy’s declaration that the Americans would have a man on the moon before the 60’s ended. The Apollo 11 mission had three astronauts; Neil Armstrong; Buzz Aldrin who accompanied Armstrong to the moon and Michael Collins who piloted the command spacecraft in lunar orbit while the other two went to the surface.
Woodstock – Was a pivotal music festival took place on a dairy farm in the Catskills near the city of Bethel; in Upstate New York. The festival; which was organized as a for profit business venture was organized by Michael Lang, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman and Artie Kornfeld. Woodstock ran from August 15-18, 1969 and featured some of the biggest music acts of the day including CCR, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Santana and Joan Baez, to name just a few. There were over 400,000 attendees at its height, but mud, weather, lack of sanitation and access to essential services saw the crowd size dwindle to around 30,000 attendees when Jimi Hendrix gave his iconic rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Woodstock is synonymous with the Counterculture revolution of peace, love and music. Despite the overwhelming amount of people combined with poor sanitation, and lack of access to essential services, Woodstock only experienced 2 deaths: one from a presumed heroin overdose and one from a tractor accident. Ticket prices for the three days were $18 ahead of time and $24 at the gate. 186,000 tickets were presold and organizers estimated a crowd size of 200,000 people; half of the attendance. The 1970 Academy Award winning documentary film, Woodstock chronicled the events of the festival.
Watergate – In 1972, Richard Nixon’s top advisors orchestrated a plan to break into the Democratic National Committee’s Headquarters in the Watergate office complex. The intention was to collect intelligence about Democratic party’s strategies in the upcoming election by wire tapping their phones and photographing top secret party documents. Five men were arrested for the break in. It was later found out that they were paid by a slush fund that was directly tied to President Nixon and that he and his top advisors were involved in serious abuses of power. Nixon was impeached in 1974 and 49 other people involved with the scandal were tried, found guilty and incarcerated.
Punk Rock – The terms defines a counter culture movement that took place simultaneously in New York and England during the mid to late 70’s. The music is fast paced and not over produced; with artists wanting to get back to the raunchy simple sounds of guitars and fast drums. Punk music was a rebellion against the traditional rock music being released in the early 70’s which, to Punk fans, had lost its edge. Punk Rock was not only a musical style, but a lifestyle characterized by rejection of accepted societal norms, an aggressive style of dress including spikes, chains and offensive language on clothing, piercings and at times, an almost Neo Nazi style of dress. Pivotal musical acts in the Punk Rock movement include Iggy Pop, The Sex Pistols and The Clash from the UK and The Ramones and the Patti Smith from New York. Punk music branched into a bunch of different subgenres including New Wave, Alternative, Speed Metal and Ska. New Punk bands include Green Day, The Offspring and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Menachem Begin (1913-1992) was the 6th Prime Minister of Israel and was in power from 1977 to 1983 and is perhaps best known for negotiating a peace settlement between Israel and Egypt in 1978 with the Anwar Sadat, surrendering the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in a treaty negotiated at Camp David by . This move was a huge step towards repairing Arab/Israeli relations in the Middle East being that Egypt was a major player in the Arab world and securing their support meant that other Arab nations might follow. Egypt was the first of these countries to recognize Israel’s statehood. Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 for their role in the Camp David Accords.
Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) was the 40th President of the United States and was in office from 1981-1989. Only in the United States can former actors, actresses and musicians become major political figures: Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Ben Stein, Clint Eastwood, Jerry Springer, Sonny Bono and Melissa Gilbert, to name but a few. Ronald Reagan began his career in the 1930’s acting in several Hollywood productions before he became the head of the Screen Actor’s Guild in 1941. He was married to Jane Wyman from 1940-1949 and then to Nancy Reagan until his death in 2004. He is the only US President to have had a divorce. Perhaps, his most profound and hotly contested legacy is his role in ending the Cold War. While many critics downplay his importance in this regard, fellow world leaders reflect back on that time and widely agree that the outcome would have been very different had he not been involved. Politically, he remained active in the Republican party after leaving office in 1989 and he continued to be the icon for less government involvement in business. citing “Big Government” as the problem, not the solution to economic prosperity.
Palestine is partially recognized by world leaders as an independent Islamic nation within the contested boundaries of the country of Israel. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) declared its independence from Israel in 1988 is considered a government in exile, headquartered in Algiers, Algeria. The PLO applied for admission into the United Nations and was granted Non Member Observer State Status in 2012. Palestine claims as its territory The West Bank and the Gaza Strip which lie within the boundaries and are occupied by the State of Israel. East Jerusalem is within the boundaries of the West Bank, which continues to be a very contentious issue in Israel as there are places that are holy to the Jewish people that Israeli citizens cannot visit for safety concerns. Palestinians who spend any time in the the non PLO occupied areas are often stopped and asked for identification by the Israeli military and the feeling of unrest is very real when visiting this region. Bethlehem, arguably the most holy place in the Christian faith, lies within the West Bank. Egypt, who formerly claimed rights over the Gaza Strip and Jordan who formally claimed rights over the West Bank withdrew their claims of sovereignty in these regions, ceding them to the PLO in 1979.
Terror on the airlines – The mid 1980’s was a risky time to fly in Europe due to a rash of high profile airplane hijackings. While the chances are very low that a person will actually be involved in a hijacking; the ones that took place between 1985 and 1987 were prolific in the media and almost exclusively committed by extremist Islamic organizations. TWA 847 from Athens to Rome was hijacked by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihadists. Although only one person died as a result, the negotiations for the safe release of passengers took approximately two weeks! Egyptair 648 was hijacked by the Abu Nidal Organization. resulting in the deaths of 60/92 passengers on board. PanAm 1073 was hijacked by the Abu Nidal Organization resulting in 20 passenger deaths. Iraqi Airways 163 was hijacked by Hezbollah associates and resulted in the death of all 60 passengers and 3 crew members.
Ayatollah’s in Iran – In 1979, The Shah of Iran was overthrown by Ayatollah Khomeini (1902-1989 and Supreme Leader of Iran from 1979-1989). There were a series of events over the previous 20 years that paved the way for the Ayatollah and their anti U.S. government to gain a firm stronghold in Iran. Britain and the United States; fearing the loss of free flowing Iranian oil, were involved in a plot to overthrow the popular Prime Minister in favour of the Shah monarchy; effectively ending the chance of democracy in Iran for the rest of the century. Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, was the democratically elected leader of Iran, and although; Britain and the U.S. claim to be champions of democracy in the world, they were more afraid of losing access to Iranian oil than anything else. For this reason, the CIA executed Operation Ajax in 1953 which resulted in the ousting of Mosaddegh and engendering decades of hostility towards the west, as a result. This hostility built up to a fevered pitch in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah’s government and established the Islamic Republic of Iran. Khomeini is seen by many as the “face” of Islam in the West.
Russians in Afghanistan – In 1978, a Pro-Soviet government took control of Afghanistan, initiated radical modernization reforms and executed traditional Muslim insurgents. The government was rapidly losing control in large areas of the country and called for Soviet intervention to help stop the Mujaheddin rebels. The Soviets, who were initially called in to aid the government, but in 1979, sent in troops to overthrow the government and execute the current Afghan president and install another pro Soviet leader, which inflamed the situation further and resulted in the UN and the 34 nations in the Islamic Conference calling for Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Soviets did not comply and occupied Afghanistan for approximately 10 years until they finally withdrew in 1989. The Mujaheddin rebels were very well supplied by several Muslim and western countries, so as much as the US feared radical Muslims, they feared the soviets more and in an ironic twist of historical fate, the Mujaheddin became the Taliban, who were well trained and supplied by the US and other western governments.
Wheel of Fortune – Wheel of Fortune is the longest running, syndicated game show in the United States. It started in 1975 as a daytime series and in 1983, due to overwhelming popularity became part of NBC’s nightly lineup. The game is loosely based on hangman, where there is a word puzzle for players to solve by guessing letters in an elimination style of play; winning money for correctly guessing the letter and keeping the money if they are able to solve the puzzle. Pat Sajak and Vanna White have been the longest running host and hostess of the show; whose popularity is related in part to the expensive prizes to be won including the potential for $100,000 cash, deluxe vacations and expensive cars.
Sally Ride was an American physicist, astronaut and the first American woman in space. During her career, she logged over 343 hours in space on two separate missions – 1983 and 1984 on the Space Shuttle Challenger. She helped to develop and was the first one to use the Canad-arm
Heavy Metal Suicide – There is some confusion in Billy Joel’s lyrics. He is either talking about the “heavy metal suicide” controversy of the 1980’s or of the emergence of Heavy metal as a genre of popular music and the rising rates of suicides noted among teens in the 1980’s. Heavy metal as a genre of popular music began with the Psychedelic/Blues rock of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple of the early 70’s and continued with the heavier, and sometimes Punk influenced sounds of Judas Priest, Motorhead and Iron Maiden in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Glam metal came onto the scene in the 1980’s with bands like Poison and Motley Crue taking the feminine fashions from the New Romantic movement, and adding studs, leather and makeup for a masculine/feminine look with pop music leanings. In regards to Heavy Metal Suicide, the band Judas Priest was sued by the families to two young men who committed suicide after listening to Judas Priest, smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol. The families alleged that there was a background lyric in “Better By You, Better Than Me” that claimed “do it”, with the “it” referring to committing suicide. The suicides took place in 1985 (although one of the men survived for 3 years before eventually succumbing to his injuries, but the trial took place in 1991. The lawsuit was dismissed.
Foreign debts – Foreign debt in the United States grew sharply in the 1980’s. The average US citizen carried more debt than the previous generation, borrowing against loans and credit cards. Interest rates were raised to combat inflation. The US economy also faced rapidly rising gas and oil prices; likely due to a shortage of cheaper Middle Eastern crude oil caused by an embargo against United States because of their foreign policy towards Israel. The OPEC countries decided to embargo oil shipments to the US in addition to raising the price of crude oil
Homeless Vets – Homelessness among war veterans has been and continues to be a problem. The song, however, was referring primarily to the growing problem of drug and alcohol addiction leading to homelessness after the Vietnam War. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder became a recognized mental illness until the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when society was faced with large numbers of traumatized soldiers returning from their time in Vietnam. The phenomenon of post war induced mental illness had been around for a long time prior, but was never given a formal definition in the DSM IV. It was colloquially known as “Shell Shock” after WWII or “Battle Fatigue”. Homelessness was more of a problem with Vietnam Vets because they were given less benefits upon returning home than did the soldiers who fought in WWII. Their plight has been very well portrayed in Hollywood in movies like First Blood and Born on the Fourth of July.
AIDS – Originating in Africa in the 1900’s and making a noticeable appearance in the United States in 1981, AIDS; Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is a primarily sexuallly transmitted disease that was first observed in intravenous drug users and the gay male population but quickly progressed, through shared needles and sexual contact to include men and women, regardless of sexual orientation. At first, AIDS was observed as a spike in the number of diagnosed cases of a relatively rare skin cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma and a rare pneumonia called Pneumocystis carinii. Both illnesses were historically, only present in immunosuppressed populations. After further investigations, the scientists began calling the disease the “4H” disease (Homosexuals, Heroin users, Hemophiliacs and Haitians) after the populations with the highest incidences of the disease. Since its earliest cases in the United States were primarily among the gay community, the disease became known as GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency). In 1983, scientists began researching this growing outbreak of symptoms which was, by this time, affecting more and more people outside of the gay community. The term AIDS was coined in 1986.
Crack – Came onto the inner city drug scene of LA, New York and Miami in the early to mid 1980’s. Crack is the solid rock version of cocaine and is smoked or injected rather than snorted. The high from smoking crack is very intense, but much shorter in duration than in snorting cocaine. Crack is manufactured from combining pure cocaine with any number of mediums, but typically includes baking soda. Pure cocaine, when burned, doesn’t release the same intoxicants as crack does. Some users will cook crack themselves using pure cocaine, water and baking soda. When burned, the cocaine becomes an oily residue that floats on the top of the water. When dried, it can be rolled into a solid ball or rock. This process allows the solid cocaine to be smoked, and readily absorbed by the body, releasing a flood of dopamine in the system and creating a temporary euphoria. Smoking crack, in addition to the socioeconomic problems it can create and sustain, can lead to health issues such as “crack lung” – scarring and permanent damage to the lungs, disease transmission through sharing of dirty pipes, and burned cracked lips from sustained contact with a hot, jagged pipe.
Bernie Goetz born Bernhard Goetz in 1947 was better known to New Yorker’s as “The Subway Vigilante”, when, in 1984, he shot 4 men who attempted to rob him on the subway. He fired 5 shots, seriously injuring all 4 men. He was acquitted of all charges except for carrying an unlicensed firearm for which he served 9 months in prison. More important than the actual events of the story, was the debate it sparked among locals about the growing crime problem in New York City and the amount of acceptable force that can be used when defending against an attack; of particular note is comparing the severity of the attack with the level of defense employed and the definition of what “reasonable force” means; an issue still hotly debated in many first world legal systems.
Hypodermics on the shores – In 1988/89, large amounts of solid, raw waste including syringes and other medical waste washed up on the shores of New York City, New Jersey and Long Island, dramatically affecting tourism in the region and costing New Jersey shore business owners an estimated 1 billion in lost revenue not to mention the cost to the environment and taxpayers of New York. The waste was coming from the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island and New York City was ordered to pay 1 million in fines and to fund the cleanup efforts.
China’s under martial law – in 1989, when popular, liberal leaning Communist Party politician, Hu Yao Bang died of a sudden heart attack, university students and intellectuals gathered at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China to collectively grieve his death. This public mourning began gaining more and more support. Students across the country began gathering in mass demonstrations of grief and solidarity with Hu’s criticisms of lack of career prospects and government corruption within the Communist Party. Although Hu’s death was a catalyst to bring mass groups of students, intellectuals and more right leaning citizens, the demonstrations soon took on a life of their own. Hu died in April and the crowd at Tiananmen Square continued to increase well into May, when the protesters stepped up their activities to include a hunger strike, in an attempt to force China’s hand into giving them what they want, lest they appear fractured as a country in the eyes of the Russians who, lead by Mikhail Gorbachev, were visiting on May 13th. Gorbachev’s welcome ceremony was scheduled to take place at Tiananmen Square, but had to be relocated because of the demonstrations. By late May, the hunger strikes were gaining support from Chinese citizens of all walks of life. More than a million people gathered in the Square. On May 20th, China declared Martial Law in order to contain the growing chaos. The crowd began to descend into factions. It was chaotic and disorganized. The government continued to have a military presence to keep the crowd in check. The Ministry of State Security submitted to the Chinese leadership, a report that Americans had infiltrated the crowd and were looking to overthrow the government escalating panic further and sparking the hard crackdown on the crowd on June 3 and 4, 1989. The resulting tanks, air strikes and open firing on the crowd resulted in 100’s and some estimate further, 1000’s of deaths. The aftermath included hundreds of arrests and political leadership changes. The arrested who were poor or working class were executed, whereas the those who were wealthy or well connected served prison time. The protest leaders were able to leave China and become foreign educated. The Chinese government cracked down on freedom of the press following the incident which is not officially acknowledged or discussed.
Rock and Roller Cola Wars – Coke Vs Pepsi battle for cola supremacy in the 80’s and 90’s by hiring pop stars to shill their products: Paula Abdul for Coke and Michael Jackson for Pepsi. Coke had traditionally relied on a character based, wholesome image to market their product – think of the polar bear and the iconic image of Santa Claus clad in red and white faux fur. In the 1970’s, Pepsi launched the Pepsi Taste Challenge, a campaign set up in large consumer centres like shopping malls and grocery stores. A representative would present consumers with two, unlabeled white cups; one with Coke and one with Pepsi and ask the consumer to pick the beverage they preferred. More people chose Pepsi over Coke in the blind taste tests, which were later proven to be flawed because an overwhelming majority of people will choose the sweeter of two beverages. With the marketing flop of the New Coke, being slammed by the Pepsi Taste Challenge and trying to be heard above the cacophony of music superstar, Michael Jackson, Coke had to step up its game by hiring Paula Abdul to represent Diet Coke. Pepsi hired Ray Charles to represent Diet Pepsi. C and C Music Factory, Randy Travis, Anita Baker and Wayne Gretzky represented Coke while Madonna and Bo Jackson represented Pepsi.