80s History

Top Political Events of the 80s

The 1980s were a decadent, catastrophic, and groundbreaking decade, not just in the United States, but in many parts of the world as well. The decade hosted a remarkable range of environmental, political, and pop-cultural events. It was the decade of Ronald Reagan in America who had a conservative agenda that shaped the economic and political fortunes of the United States.

If you are into politics and you want to know more about what happened in that decade, you’re in the right place. Today, we are giving you a list of the top political events of the 80s.

President Reagan Assassination Attempt

President Reagan waving, moments before he was shot

Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, was shot and wounded by John Hinckley on March 30, 1981, in Washington, D.C. This happened as he was returning to his limousine after doing a speech at the Washington Hilton Hotel. According to John Hinckley, he did it to impress the actress Jodie Foster, who starred in the Taxi Driver film in 1976. Ever since he watched the film, he became obsessed with Foster.

Due to the shot, Reagan was wounded seriously by a .22 long rifle bullet on his left underarm. It broke a rib, punctured a lung, and caused serious internal bleeding. Reagan was close to death when he arrived at George Washington University Hospital. But he was stabilized in the emergency room and underwent an emergency exploratory surgery. He was able to recover from the surgeryand was discharged from the hospital on April 11.

Aside from Ronald Reagan, there were others who were wounded due to the incident, including White House Press Secretary James Brady, police officer Thomas Delahanty, and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy. All of them survived. However, Brady suffered brain damage and became permanently disabled. Brady died in 2014, and his death was considered homicide because it was caused by the injury.

On June 21, 1982, the jury found John Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity. This decision provoked public outrage. Based on an ABC News poll done the day after the verdict, 76% of Americans said that justice was not done. Due to this, Congress and many states passed a regulation that constrained the use of the insanity defense.  Up until today, the ruling continues to affect criminal cases when the assaulter has a mental illness. 

Berlin Wall Falls

a photo of the Berlin wall with vandalism

The Fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the most famous scenes in history. It was also a pivotal event as it marked thebeginning of the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. The Berlin Wall was a concrete barrier that was guarded. It physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. It was commenced by the German Democratic Republic, to completely cut-off West Berlin to East Berlin and East Germany. It was built to stop East Germans from going over to the West.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall happened on November 9, 1989, five days after half a million people did a mass protest in East Berlin. On that day,the Berlin Wall dividing communist East Germany from West Germany crushed. During a press conference on the evening of that date, Gunter Schabowski, East German politburo member impulsively announced that restrictions on travel visas would be lifted. He was asked when the new policy would begin and he answered, “Immediately, without delay.”

However, the policy was to be announced the following day. And it supposed to still require East Germans to go through a long visa application process. But the answers of Schabowski confused the people, and the mistaken media reports that border crossings had opened promptedthousands of East Berliners to the Berlin Wall.

Harald Jager, the chief officer on duty at the Bornholmer Street checkpoint, faced a crowd growing in size and frustration. He also received insults from his superiors rather than instructions. Aside from that, he was also nervously expecting the results of his cancer diagnostic tests the following day during that time. With all of these, he became overwhelmed and opened the border crossing on his own, and the other gates soon followed.

Iran-Contra Affair

President Ronald Reagan in discussion with his remarks on the Iran-Contra affair

The Iran-Contra Affair, or also known as the McFarlane affair in Iran, was a political scandal in the United States. It happened during the second term of the Reagan Administration. It was a secret U.S. arms deal that traded missiles and other arms to free some Americans that were held hostage by terrorists in Lebanon. Aside from that, it also used funds from the arms deal to support armed conflict in Nicaragua. This provocative deal and the following political scandal threatened to bring down the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

When 1,500 missiles were shipped to Iran, three hostages were released. However, those three hostages were soon replaced with three more hostages. This was called a “hostage Bazaar” by George Shultz, the Secretary of State during that time.

Instead of Reagan, Oliver North, President of the National Rifle Association, took the blame and was tried in court for the affair. But the court found him not guilty. Reagan himself apologized to the American people on March 4, 1987, and admitted that it was all his fault. Later on, George W. Bush pardoned anyone who was involved in the affair.

Ronald Reagan was a devotee of the Contra cause, but the evidence is unclear if he knew about the scandal. He announced the creation of a Special Review Board on November 25, 1986, to look into the matter. The commission was named the Tower Commission. In the end, the committee said that there was no evidence that can prove that Reagan had anything connection with the Iran-Contra affair.

The Birth of Cable News

a replica of the CNN center newsroom

The start of cable television in the United States led to the birth of cable news. On June 1, 1980, CNN was launched by Ted Turner. It was the first 24-hour cable news operation, followed by its sister channel, Headline News, in 1982.

CNN became popular in 1991 when it covered the Gulf War. Due to its success, many other 24-hour cable news stations were inspired. The Financial News Network was launched in 1981, which focused on business and finance news. In 1989, CNBC was launched and it bought FNN in 1991. In 1994, Bloomberg Television was launched, followed by CNNfn in 1995.Fox News and MSNBC were launched in 1996 to compete with CNN.

Aside from those, regional cable news operations like Pittsburgh Cable News Channel, New England Cable News, and NY1, have also gained fame among regional viewers.

Polish Shipyard Strike

a view of the Polish shipyard

Lech Walesa, an electrician and former shipyard worker who has been dismissed in 1976, led a shipyard strike in August 1980 in Gdansk, Poland, in an effort to improve conditions for the workforce of the country. It was followed by a series of strikes that resulted in the Gdansk Agreement. This agreement allowed workers the right to strike and as well as organize unions.

The strikes during those times did not happen just because of the problems that had arisen shortly before the labor conflict, but also because of governmental and economic problems spanning more than a decade. 

US Hostages Released from Iran

the return of the American hostages from Iran

The crisis began on November 4, 1979, when militant Iranian students, mad that the US government had allowed the exiled shah of Iran to travel to New York City for medical treatment, apprehended the U.S. embassy in Teheran.

Iran’s political and religious leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, took over the hostage situation. He refused all appeals to release the hostages, even after the U.N. Security Council required an end to the crisis in an undisputed vote. After two weeks, the Ayatollah began releasing all the non-U.S. captives, and as well as all female and minority Americans. He cited these groups as among the people burdened by the government of the United States. There were 52 captives that remained at the mercy of the Ayatollah for the next 14 months.

Jimmy Carter was president at that time, but he was unable to resolve the crisis diplomatically. What he did was he ordered a disastrous rescue mission on April 24, 1980, where 8 U.S. military personnel were killed, and there were no hostages rescued.

After three months, the former shah died of cancer, but the crisis still continued. Carter lost the presidential election to Ronald Reagan in November 1980. Later on, successful negotiations began between Iran and the United States.

On the inauguration day of Reagan, the United States freed nearly $8 billion in frozen Iranian assets. After 444 days, the hostages were released. Jimmy Carter then flew to West Germany to greet the Americans on their way home. 

Sandra Day O’Connor Appointed to Supreme Court

Sandra Day O’Connor with President Reagan

Sandra Day O’Connor is popularly known as the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. She was selected by President Reagan in 1981, and after that, she quickly became an important decision maker in a lot of split decisions. Sandra was born in rural Arizona on a cattle ranch. She attended Stanford Law School where she also met her husband, John O’Connor.

Reagan sworn during his 1980 presidential campaign to assign the first woman to the Court. And on July 7, 1981, he announced that he would nominate O’Connor as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Sandra received the notification from the president the day before the announcement. She had no idea that she was a finalist for the position. 

Maze Hunger Strike

the people who participated in the Maze hunger strike

The 1981 Irish hunger strike, or known as the Maze Hunger Strike, was the peak of a five-year protest during the Troubles by the Irish republican prisoners in Northern Ireland. In 1976, it began as the blanket protest, when the British government withdrew Special Category Status for imprisonedguerrilla prisoners.

The dispute escalated into the dirty process in 1978, where prisoners refused to leave their cells to wash, and they covered the walls of their cells with excrement. Then, in 1980, seven prisoners did the first hunger strike, which ended after 53 days.

A second hunger strike happened in 1981. It was a showdown between the prisoners and Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister. Bobby Sands, one hunger striker, was elected as a member of parliament through the strike. This prompted media interest from all over the world. After ten prisoners have starved themselves to death, including sands, whose funeral was joined by 100,000 people, the strike was called off.

The Maze Hunger Strike radicalized Irish nationalist politics. It was also the driving force that empowered Sinn Fein to become a majority political party. 

Assassination of Anwar Al-Sadat

Anwar Sadat with President Jimmy Carter

Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat was assassinated on October 6, 1981. During a military parade remembering the 1973 Yom Kippur War against Israel, Anwar Al-Sadat was shot by Muslim extremists. Al-Sadat, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for the 1979 peace treaty he signed with Israel was killed in the shooting, together with other dignitaries.

In the first hours after the shooting, while Al-Sadat lay in the hospital, the CBS News Bureau in Cairo attempted to make sense of inconsistent reports on whether Al-Sadat had died. 

War in the Falklands

a ship sinking during the war in the Falklands

The War in the Falklands, or also known as the Falkland Islands War, Falklands War, South Atlantic War, or Malvinas War, was a short undeclared war in 1982 that was fought between Great Britain and Argentina. The war was over control of the Falkland Islands and the connected island dependencies.

It was a 10-week war that began in April 1982. It was when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, which is a longtime UK colony. To defend the islands, UK sent hundreds of people. There were 655 Argentine, 255 British servicemen, and 3 Falkland Islanders who lost their lives in the fighting. 

Death of Leonid Brezhnev

On November 10, 1982, President Leonid Brezhev died at the age of 75. He was the one who led the Soviet Union for 18 years. His death closed a chapter of old-guard Communist Party leadership, and made way for a new regime that wanted reform.

Brezhnev suffered a heart attack following years of serious ailments. After five days of mourning, he was given a state funeral, which was attended by 32 heads of state, 14 foreign ministers, 15 heads of government, and 4 princes. 

Margaret Thatcher’s Manifesto

Margaret Thatcher

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher launched the Conservative Manifesto in May 1983, on the road to re-election. This manifesto wished-formodification of the trade unions’ political tax. It also promised to reduce unemployment significantly. 

Assassination of Benigno Aquino

photo of Benigno Aquino

Benigno Aquino, a former senator in the Philippines, was assassinated at the Manila International Airport on August 21, 1983. It happened when he had just landed in the Philippines after three-years of voluntary exile in the United States. While being accompanied from an aircraft to a vehicle that was waiting to take him to prison, he was shot in the head.This assassination also killed Rolando Galman, who was later implicated in the murder of Benigno Aquino.

Aquino was elected in 1967 to the Philippine Senate. However, he spoke against Marcos’ authoritarian rule, and was imprisoned on trumped up charges after the declaration of martial law in 1972. He suffered a heart attack in 1980, and was allowed to leave the country. He spent three years in exile near Boston before he returned to the Philippines.

Miners’ Strike – United Kingdom

In 1984, miner’s in the United Kingdom had a strike for their right to work.It was a yearlong strike that was started by mining unions. It was led by Arthur Scargill of the National Union of Mineworkers in contradiction of the National Coal Board. There were more than 187,000 miners that participated in the strike. This attempted to stop the closing of coal pits. The Miner’s strike in 1984 was tagged as the longest industrial dispute of the 20th century.

Geraldine Ferraro – First Female Vice-Presidential Candidate

Geraldine Ferraro with President Jimmy Carter

In 1984, democrat Geraldine Ferraro became the very first female vice-presidential candidate on a major party ticket. This was during the time she ran with Walter Mondale. According to her during her campaign, her candidacy was not just a symbol, but a breakthrough. And not just a statement but a bond between the women in America. Ferraro was also an American attorney and Democratic Party politician who served in the United States House of Representatives. 

Assassination of Indira Gandhi

The longtime Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated in October 31, 1984. She was shot by her Sikh bodyguards at her residence in Safdarjung Road, New Delhi. It was the aftermath of Operation Blue Star, which was an Indian military operation that was carried out between June 1 and 8, 1984.

It was ordered by Indira Gandhi to eliminate Jarnail Singh Bhidranwale, the Sikh militant leader, together with his armed followers from the building of the Harmandir Sahib complex in Amritsar, Punjab. Aside from this, she also ordered an attack on a Sikh temple in Amritsar, which was side to have offended the religious views of Sikhs.

The night before Indira Gandhi died, she said that she does not mind if her life goes in the service of the nation. And she also added that if she dies, every drop of her blood will revitalize the nation.

Cold War Summit – Gorbachev and Reagan

President Reagan talking to Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev

During the Geneva Summit that was held on November 19, 1985, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev shook hands as they meet. This event marked the first time that the two countries had met for a summit conference in eight years. There were no groundbreaking agreements that came out of the summit, but the fact that the two sides met harmoniously in the midst of Cold War tensions appeared to promise well for the future of international relations.

The People Power Revolution

thousands of people in the People Power Revolution

The People Power Revolution is also known as the EDSA Revolution, the Philippine Revolution of 1986, the Yellow Revolution, or EDSA 1986. It was a series of popular protests in the Philippines from February 22 to 25, 1986. What sparked the people power was the opposition to dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The revolution was all about regular citizens in the Philippines. There were not military personal or political figures involved. They take the streets to protests peacefully. It was a nonviolent revolution that eventually forced Ferdinand Marcos to leave the country on February 25, 1986, ending his 21-year presidential rule. This revolution restored democracy in the Philippines.

Dukakis Tank Gaffe

photo of Dukakis in a tank

During a 1988 campaign visit to a military equipment manufacturer, Michael Dukakis, democratic presidential hopeful, appeared in an armored tank. When one of his images, him popping out of an M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank with a helmet on was seen by the Republicans, according to CNN, they almost popped the corks on the champagne.

Margaret Thatcher, UK’s Prime Minister had been photographed in a similar situation on 1986 while riding a Challenger tank and wearing a scarf. However, compared to Dukakis, her picture was very successful and had helped her reelection prospects. The photo of Dukakis, on the other hand, was used in television ads by the Bush campaign. It was an evidence that he would not make a good commander-in-chief. 

Tiananmen Square Massacre

a man seen standing in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square Massacre, or also known as June Fourth Incident, happened in 1989, when troops with assault rifles and tanks fired at the demonstrators and as well as those who were trying to block the military’s advance into Tiananmen Square.

What caused this to happen were the student-led demonstrations that were held in Tiananmen Square in 1989. It began on April 15, and was suppressed forcibly on June 4 when the government declared martial law. The estimates of the death toll from this incident vary from several hundred to several thousand, and thousands were wounded, as well. And it’s quite ironic because Tiananmen means Gate of Heavenly Peace. 

Overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu

during the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu

In 1989, Eastern Europe saw several uprisings against communism. On December 21, 1989, Romanian citizens staged an anti-government protest in Bucharest’s Republican Square. It was a day before Nicolae Ceausescu, the country’s communist leader of 24 years, was overthrown in a violent revolution. His execution, which happened days later, was televised in Romania. It was after the Ceausescus were found guilty and sentenced to death due to illegal gathering of wealth and genocide.

These are the top political events of the 80s. It’s fascinating to know that these events that happened in the past helped in shaping politics all over the world. If you are looking into knowing more about history, you might also want to consider some of these books that we found:

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Where to Buy

The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s

The Secret War Against Sweden: US and British Submarine Deception in the 1980s (Cass Series: Naval Policy and History)

The Reagan Rhetoric: History and Memory in 1980s America

 

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