And we know that the subsequent international crisis, which was especially intense during the summer and autumn of 1961, threatened the world with the risk of a military conflict, one that seemed as if it could escalate at any time into nuclear confrontation between the U.S. And the Soviet Union" (p. 44). Over the next 25 years, the Berlin Wall grew both in terms of its physical dimensions as well as in its increasingly clear message to the world that the Soviet Union was going to do everything possible to contain its citizens in East Berlin in what was tantamount to an enormous prison. In this regard, Tijus and Santolini (1996) report that, "The main purpose of the wall that enclosed West Berlin was to prevent East Germans from crossing into West Berlin (and therefore into West Germany). The wall was 167.7 kilometers long. Concrete slabs, other walls, buildings, and houses accounted for 107.5 kilometers; wire fencing accounted for another 55.4 kilometers; and the remaining 4.8 kilometers were constructed of barbed wire" (p. 402). Things finally came to a boil when, in a poignant speech in West Berlin in June 1987, then-President Ronald Reagan challenged the Soviet premier to "tear down this wall," and by 1989, the wall came down, thereby signaling an end to the Cold War (Young, 2004, p. 19).
1990s: The First Persian Gulf War
Today, the United States has become inextricably involved in ground wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but these conflicts are due in large part to American's response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the succeeding global war on terrorism (Weiner, 2006). By contrast, the First Persian Gulf War in 1991 was fought to help expel Iraq's military forces from their invasion of Kuwait. When Saddam Hussein ordered his forces into Kuwait, it was based on his assertions that Kuwait was part of Iraq and his efforts were tantamount to a "liberation" of the Kuwaiti people. The Kuwaitis, of course, felt otherwise and requested assistance from then President George Bush. Following a brief but costly conflict, at least for the Iraqi forces, more than 700,000 American military forces succeeded in expelling the Iraqi invaders and chased them all the way back to their borders (Nelson, 2008). The Iraqi forces torched Kuwaiti oil fields on their way home, though, creating an environmental and economic fiasco that required an enormous effort on the part of the international community, but primarily the United States, to remedy (Boyle, 2004).
The research showed that there were a number of fateful events that took place during the second half of the 20th century and identifying the most important is a subjective analysis to be sure. The five events reviewed above, the Korean War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the Berlin Wall coming down and the First Persian Gulf War, represent some of the more obvious choices, but there are arguments to be made for events such as the moon landing in 1969, the Women's Rights Movement, the introduction of computers and the Internet and on. In the final analysis, these five events did represent turning points in American history and the four wars and the Berlin Wall episode continue to influence American foreign policy and the Civil Rights Movement remains relevant to America's domestic political, economic and social climate as well. The next decade in the history of the United States will likely be influenced by all five of these events in one fashion or another, with American policymakers being forced to negotiate terms with an increasingly influential Germany as major leaders in the European Union, on-again-off-again six-party talks with the North Koreans in hopes of dismantling their nuclear arms programs, and normalized relations with Vietnam which represents an important trading partner today. Likewise, the Civil Rights Movement will likely continue to have an impact on American domestic events as more and more African-Americans and other minorities, particularly Hispanics, gain political power and economic clout. Finally, time will only tell what the future holds for America's involvement in the Middle East, but it is reasonable to suggest that after all of the U.S. military forces are withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan, the people there will go back to killing each other instead of Americans and things will not have changed in any substantive ways and the 4,000-plus Americans who have lost their lives fighting in these countries will be shaking their heads in wonder in heaven that the United States could make such a mistake yet again.
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Kirkwood-Tucker, T.F. & Benton, J.E. (2002). The lessons of Vietnam: Using literature to introduce students to the Vietnam War. Social Education, 66(5), 362-363.
Nelson, C. (2008, May). Veteran's mysterious maladies: Studies continue to examine the effects of depleted uranium on returning soldiers. State Legislatures, 34(5), 28-29.
Pierpaoli, P.G., Jr. (2001). Beyond collective Amnesia: A Korean War retrospective.
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