Certain momentous events “shock” the American public. They were generally unexpected, sudden, and had a significant impact on the country. This series of posts explores some of these shocks to the nation that I’ve experienced in my lifetime, ending, of course, with the events of 9/11/01.
1970s – Oil and Iran
In the 1970s there were some disturbing incidents such as the killing of an anti-war protester by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. The two oil crises demonstrated that the United States was heavily dependent on foreign oil, and was very vulnerable to disruption of the oil supply. Americans waited in lines at gas stations, something we aren’t used to doing. Although it was humbling and inconvenient, we didn’t learn from the two oil crises. Unfortunately we did nothing to end our dependence on foreign oil and the percent of oil we import from foreign sources has actually increased since the 1970s.
At the end of the decade, the attack and takeover of the U.S. embassy in Teheran, Iran, and the imprisonment of Americans in the embassy, was a shock to the nation. That was our first taste of radical Islam, and we were helpless to do anything about it. While our citizens were languishing as captives under these radical students, President Carter initiated a rescue effort by our armed forces. I presume he felt that if the Israelis could do it at Entebbe, we could do it in Iran. It failed miserably and several of our troops were killed. This failure of our high-tech armed forces was a further shock to the nation.
1970s – Nixon Resigns
The biggest shock of the 1970s was the resignation of President Nixon. This had never happened before. Between the mishandling of the Vietnam War by the government and the disclosure of the sleazy side of the Nixon presidency, the boomer generation developed a serious mistrust of government. Up until the time, the government was generally viewed as positive and beneficial, even if inefficient, wasteful and occasionally corrupt. After Vietnam and Watergate, there was generally a more negative view and mistrust of government. The government’s negative image wasn’t helped by the morally deficient Clinton presidency in the 1990s. Remember Monica Lewinsky?
1980s – Shuttle Disaster
There weren’t too many shocks in the 1980s and 1990s. The big one in the 1980s was the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle shortly after launch in which all of the astronauts, including a civilian schoolteacher, were killed. What made this more of a shock than it otherwise might have been is that practically every school child in the country was watching the launch because of the schoolteacher on board. Thus millions of children saw the event live on TV and were somewhat traumatized by it.
The late 1980s saw a rare positive shock: the demise of European communism. Within a very short time, the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Eastern European countries were free of Soviet domination and could re-establish democratic governments. We patted ourselves on the back for having been instrumental in destroying communism, but conveniently forgetting that over one billion people were still living under harsh communist regimes in China, North Korea and Vietnam. Communism wasn’t dead, just defeated in one part of the world.