This week’s entry: 1995
What it’s about: Twenty years ago, the world was changing. The O.J. Simpson trial reaffirmed America’s love of tedious, lengthy legal proceedings; broadcast TV added two new, ill-fated networks; Microsoft introduced the world to the Blue Screen Of Death with the advent of Windows 95; and the public was first given widespread access to the internet, forever changing how we look at pornography. Some of you may look back on the year fondly, and a few of you may have had the poor manners to have been born then, making the rest of us feel very, very old.
Strangest fact: Despite the public embracing Best Picture winner Braveheart’s cry of “Freedom!” 1995 was the year people politely said “no thank you” to freedom. In referendums that year, Bermuda and Quebec both rejected independence from the U.K. and Canada, respectively. Separatist group The Republic Of Texas did claim to set up a provisional government for an independent state. However, widespread sentiment was not in their favor, and the following year the group split into violently opposed factions, one of which kidnapped several members of a rival faction, until the police and Texas Rangers caught up to the kidnappers, ending the dream of an independent Texas… for now.
Biggest controversy: One hoped slavery was officially illegal after the Civil War. But despite the 13th Amendment being added to the constitution in 1865, it wasn’t ratified by Mississippi until 130 years later, on March 16, 1995. Kentucky waited until 1976 to ratify the amendment, and Delaware—not a slave state—didn’t sign on for abolishing slavery until 1901. Florida, to its credit, ratified the amendment in 1865, and reaffirmed it in 1869.
Thing we were happiest to learn: It was a great year for space exploration. Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov set a record by staying in space for 366 days aboard the Mir space station. And in a small sign the Cold War was behind us, Norman Thagard became the first American to ride into space on a Russian rocket. Thagard also set the far-less-impressive American space endurance record of 14 days, 1 hour, and 16 minutes, only 352 days behind Polyakov. The space shuttle would dock with Mir for the first time later in the year. The year 1995 saw the second African-American in history (Dr. Bernard A. Harris Jr.) walk in space. NASA also completed the Pioneer 11 mission, launched in 1973 to study the asteroid belt, and the Galileo probe entered the atmosphere of Jupiter.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: 1995 was a bad year for terrorism in the U.S. The worst of it was the Oklahoma City bombing, in which Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols set off a bomb that leveled the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 and wounding 680. It is still the deadliest attack of domestic terrorism in American history. Later in the year, members of a group called the Patriot’s Council were convicted of manufacturing ricin in Minnesota. Saboteurs also derailed an Amtrak train in Arizona. The Unabomber killed lobbyist Gilbert Murray with a bomb in April, and his manifesto was published by the New York Times and Washington Post five months later.
But terrorism wasn’t limited to the U.S. Police in the Philippines responded to a chemical fire and discovered a bomb factory and plans for Project Bojinka, a plan to assassinate Pope John Paul II, bomb 11 passenger planes, and crash a hijacked plane into CIA headquarters. While mastermind Ramzi Yousef was captured a month later, his uncle and co-conspirator, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, escaped and would eventually mastermind the 9/11 attacks. The Aum Shinrikyo religious cult also killed 13 and injured 5,510 with a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. The cult’s leader, Shoko Asahara, was arrested two months later. A month after his capture, an All Nippon Airways flight was hijacked by a man demanding Asahara’s release, although all 365 of his hostages were let go. And in November, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.
There were at least a few steps toward peace in 1995, as the Dayton Accords were signed, ending the Bosnian War, and British troops withdrew from Belfast in Northern Ireland after 26 years of occupation.
Also noteworthy: 1995’s biggest legacy is surely the internet. That year marked the point at which the public became widely aware of what was then somewhat clumsily called the “information superhighway.” Over the course of the year, the U.S. government stopped funding the net, making it completely privatized, America Online and Prodigy offered the public access that had been previously limited to universities and the military, and the first search engine, Yahoo!, was launched.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: 1995’s most bittersweet moment came on December 31, when the 3,150th and final Calvin And Hobbes strip appeared in newspapers. Wikipedia has a thorough analysis of the strip and its history, from the strip’s characters and recurring motifs, to creator Bill Watterson’s refusal to merchandise the strip and battles with newspapers over the ever-smaller spaces allotted to newspaper comics. It also reveals the strip’s origins—Watterson had pitched a strip about kids to United Feature Syndicate, and the Syndicate suggested the most interesting part of the strip was the main character’s younger brother and his stuffed tiger. The rest is history.
Further down the wormhole: One of the strangest stories of 1995 was that of Shawn Nelson, an Army vet and unemployed plumber with a history of meth use. He stole an unattended Patton tank from a National Guard armory in San Diego and went on a rampage, running over cars, fire hydrants, and traffic signs. After the tank became stuck on a concrete traffic divider, the police cornered Nelson, and when he refused to surrender, he was shot in the shoulder, later dying of his injuries. Wikipedia links the word “rampage” to “running amok,” a recognized mental disorder in which someone loses control and attacks anyone within reach. We’ll have some amok time next week.