2013 ends and 2014 begins. The new year marks a number of anniversaries in American history. The more recent events are no longer recent, even if they feel that way. The older events seem like ancient history and in some respects are. The following are a sampling of anniversaries of note for the year 2014.
Five years ago: Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 and assumed office in January 2009. His inauguration marked a major milestone in American history. The country elected a black man to the highest office for the first time. In the end, President Obama proved decidedly more divisive than candidate Obama.
Ten years ago: President George W. Bush was amazingly popular and successful in his first term. His success drove critics over the edge. They honestly believed they could defeat a popular incumbent and attacked Bush for “lying” to start the Iraq War. Bush won re-election over a weak Democratic nominee and then suffered the second term curse.
Fifteen years ago: The media warned Americans of impending computer disaster when the calendar turned from 1999 to 2000. The “Y2K bug” would trick computers into thinking the year was 1900 and not 2000. Then, the glitch would throw the world back into the early 20th century as technology shut down. The hysteria led one elderly lady to withdraw her life savings from a bank. Her house promptly burnt down leaving her penniless. In the end, the computers transitioned without a problem and the world continued on as before.
Twenty years ago: On June 13, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were viciously murdered. The evidence led police to former football star O.J. Simpson. Four days later, Simpson led authorities on a low speed chase through Interstate 405. Media helicopters tracked the chase live allowing millions of people to follow the action, or inaction, in real time. The surreal event culminated with Simpson’s arrest, a lengthy trial, and acquittal. The case demonstrated the racial gap in the United States. Black Americans supported Simpson while whites believed he was guilty.
Twenty-five years ago: The communists erected a wall in Berlin to stop East Berliners from defecting to the west. 136 people died trying to escape to freedom. Their deaths, like the wall itself, became a symbol of the Cold War and the differences between the communist bloc and free world. By 1989, the Soviet Union could no longer continue the struggle against the west. The Soviets acquiesced, the wall fell, Germany soon reunited, and communism collapsed.
Fifty years ago: Brown v. Board of Education provided the legal footing for the civil rights movement. Over the next decade, the movement initiated several non-violent protests designed to force the federal government to end legal segregation. They finally succeeded when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. The act fulfilled the promise of equal protection under the law and outlawed discrimination and segregation. This act coupled with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to reinvent American politics through minority participation.
Seventy-Five years ago: The Nazis used economic crisis and anger over the Treaty of Versailles to rise to power. Adolf Hitler managed several diplomatic coups to increase the size of his Reich. Essentially, Hitler saber rattled and used progressive thinking against the western powers. After the Great War, many progressives, such as Woodrow Wilson, argued that national ethnic groups should be united. Hitler used this argument to grab Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia. In 1939, he began agitating for parts of Poland. The western allies finally recognized the real Hitler and promised to defend Poland. On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland igniting the Second World War.
100 years ago: Victorian Europe entered into a number of alliances designed to create a balance of power. These alliances birthed mass slaughter once initiated. On June 28, 1914, Serbian nationalists murdered the Austria-Hungarian crown prince, the Archduke Ferdinand. They hoped to usher in Serbian independence by motivating a rebellion against their Austria-Hungarian overlords. Instead, the great powers were dragged in through the alliance system. Countries began to mobilize and eventually marched on one another. What began as an internal imperial affair for Austria-Hungary developed into the greatest mass slaughter in human history.
150 years ago: The Civil War ignited in 1861 and devolved into a war of attrition. Northern armies failed to defeat Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia after three years. However, Union commanders in the western theater experienced great success against their Confederate counterparts. President Abraham Lincoln went through a succession of generals, finally plucked Ulysses S. Grant from the west, and promoted him to command the Union armies. Grant recognized the Civil War’s true nature and ground the Confederacy to ash by April 1865.
200 years ago: The American armies performed poorly against a second tier British force in the War of 1812. The main British army fought Napoleon in Europe while the remainder went to America. Meanwhile, the second string made short work of American forces in a number of battles. In 1814, they routed the Americans at the Battle of Bladensburg and marched into Washington. The elated British encountered a deserted capitol, set it ablaze, and enjoyed dinner at the White House.
250 years ago: The British needed revenue after the French and Indian War nearly bankrupt the kingdom. They looked to the American colonies to help restore fiscal order. They revamped the ineffective Molasses Act of 1733 hoping to actually collect the tax. The 1764 act cut the tax in half and included enforcement measures. However, the colonists refused to pay the tax, responded by boycotting British goods, and Britain repealed the act in 1766.
300 years ago: Queen Anne’s War, or the War of Spanish Succession, began in 1701 over the Spanish throne. European monarchs battled to determine who would succeed Charles II. The war spilled over to Colonial America and ended for the colonists in 1713. However, France and Austria continued fighting into 1714. The fighting finally concluded that year and Europe entered into a long “cold war” until King George’s War embroiled Europe and the colonies in 1744.
400 years ago: Jamestown colony struggled in its formative years. Many people died between 1607 and 1614. The venture appeared questionable at best until John Rolfe discovered a tobacco to market to Europeans. Rolfe became rich and celebrated. Meanwhile, the Jamestown colony expanded, tobacco farming spread throughout the American south, and the English colonies never looked back. Had Jamestown failed, English North America might never have existed.