The Crazy Eighties - Before the Internet and Smartphones
I wrote about why the eighties was my favorite decade in history less than a year ago. Although some things have changed since July 2019 (like the great coronavirus zombie apocalypse), nothing can change history. That is, unless you allow revisionist history to replace it.
The internet didn’t become available to the average person until sometime in the mid-1990s. The first smartphones (if you want to call them that) preceded the Apple iPhones in the late 1990s. Regardless, most people didn’t use either until after the beginning of the new millennia.
At this risk of repeating myself in this section and the rest, I’ll tell you what I remember (aided by Wikipedia, of course).
- In 1980, President Carter signed a proclamation requiring 18 to 25-year-old men to register for a peacetime military draft (the Selective Service System). Because of something stupid in that proclamation, people who were already on active duty had to register as well as civilians. I was one of them.
- Ronald Reagan was elected as the President of the United States in 1980 and was sworn in as the 40th president in 1981. The Iranian hostage crisis ended either that day or the day before (depending on international time zones). John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate Reagan in March 1981.
- Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to serve with the United States Supreme Court, starting in September 1981.
- The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. in November 1982.
- A multinational force arrived in Beirut, Lebanon in 1982 to oversee the PLO withdrawal from the country. The multinational force included U.S. Marines.
- The 1983 United States embassy bombing in Beirut killed 63 people. Suicide truck-bombings destroyed both the French Army and United States Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. servicemen, 58 French paratroopers and six Lebanese civilians. The U.S. Navy ship I was on was redirected to the coast of Lebanon shortly thereafter. If memory serves, I spent about a month wondering if and when I would see any action.
- U.S. troops invaded Grenada in October 1983. Part of the movie, “Heartbreak Ridge”, was loosely based on that event.
- Ronald Reagan was reelected as President of the United States in 1984. He was sworn in again, in a private ceremony, in January 1985.
- The Statue of Liberty was closed for restoration in 1984. It was reopened in 1986.
- Jonathan Pollard, a former intelligence analyst, was found guilty of sharing top-secret military information with Israel in 1986. He was incarcerated from 1987 to 2015.
- President Reagan challenged Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall during a visit to Berlin, West Germany (which is now part of the unified Germany) in 1987.
- Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and Vice Admiral John Poindexter were indicted on conspiracy charges in connection with the Iran-Contra Affair in 1988. I remember watching the hearings for days. Oliver North was convicted of the charges in 1989, but his conviction was thrown out on appeal in 1991.
- George H.W. Bush (the first Bush), the Vice President of the United States, was elected as the President of the United States in 1988. He was sworn in as the 41st president in January 1989.
- In 1989, Army General Colin Powell became the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A lot more national events occurred than I care to remember. One event, the ousting of Philippines President Marcos in 1986, was probably not as important to Americans as it was to Filipinos worldwide, even though the American government was involved.
Other Notable Events
These are some of the events I remember. There were obviously more.
- The space shuttle Columbia was the first to make a round trip into space in 1981. It disintegrated on reentry in 2003, on its 28th mission. The space shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after launch for its 10th mission in 1986, killing everyone on board.
- AIDS was first recognized in 1981. Margaret Heckler of the U.S. Public Health Service announced the identity of HTLV-III as the virus that causes AIDS in 1984.
- IBM introduced the first IBM personal computer in 1981. This was the forerunner of the modern PC.
- The first computer virus, the Elk Cloner, written by 15-year old Rich Skrenta, was discovered in 1982. It infected Apple II computers with a floppy disk. The first “PC” virus, Brain, started to spread in 1986. The first internet worm, the Morris Worm, was launched from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1988. Robert Morris, a Cornell University graduate and creator of the worm, was the first person to be convicted under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
- The Commodore 64 8-bit home computer was launched by Commodore International in Las Vegas in 1982. It became the all-time best-selling single personal computer model in American history. A modernized version was recently launched by Retro Games.
- Sony launched the first consumer compact disc (CD) player in 1982.
- The migration of the ARPANET to TCP/IP was officially completed in 1983 (considered the true beginning of the internet). The Domain Name System for the internet was created in 1984. Tim Berners-Lee of CERN started openly discussing what would become the World Wide Web in 1988. He released the blueprint for it in 1989. The internet first became commercially available in 1989, but most people didn’t know about it until the mid-1990s.
- President Ronald Reagan declassified the Global Positioning System (GPS) for public/civilian use in 1983. The system was restricted during the gulf war of 1990-1991 and opened up again in 1993.
- Vanessa Williams became the first African-American to be crowned Miss America in 1983, a title she was forced to relinquish later in the year.
- In San Ysidro, California, James Oliver Huberty sprayed a McDonald’s restaurant with gunfire in 1984, killing 21 people before being shot and killed himself. United States Postal Service employee Patrick Sherrill gunned down 14 of his co-workers before committing suicide in Oklahoma in 1986. This is where the term “going postal” comes from.
- Richard Stallman’s GNU Manifesto was published in 1984.
- Super Mario Bros. was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (yes, the first one of each) in 1985. I didn’t buy a system until 1988, when it was bundled with the Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt video games.
- The Microsoft Corporation held its IPO (initial public offering) of stock shares in 1986. I could have been rich!
- The Perl programming language was invented by Larry Wall in 1988. It’s still being used today in many UNIX-like operating systems.
Again, a lot more events occurred than I care to remember.
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By RT Cunningham
May 7, 2020