Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Contemporary World

1945 to the present

After World War II, a new world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the developing nations of the Third World.

The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the year 1969.
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for new
possibilities of using space continues.



The United States: Global Power

SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states -
United States of America


The United States emerged economically strengthened from World War II and, in the postwar years, became the political and cultural leader of the Wrest as the two-state bloc system began to take shape. It stood in opposition to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, which lasted until 1991. Internally, the civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War ushered in a liberalization of society in the 1960s. As a global superpower, the United States has since 1991 seesawed between global cooperation and efforts toward hegemony. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States and the Western world are confronting the challenge of international terrorism.


Consolidation and Detente: The US under Ford and Carter

Under Ford, the tarnished office of the presidency was rehabilitated to a certain extent. His Democratic successor's term was marred by unfortunate involvement in international events.


With Nixon's resignation in 1974, Vice President 3 Gerald R. Ford became his successor.

Ford attempted through a rigorously correct administration to improve the flawed image of the presidential office. Congress was given greater powers and from 1975, many formerly covert operations of the Central Intelligence Agency came under the scrutiny of the public and the media.

During the Ford era, many domestic problems, such as unemployment and inflation, worsened.

The international 1 oil crisis of 1973-1974 illustrated the dependence of the Western industrial nations on Arab oil exporters.

In the mid-1970s, public awareness grew of environmental damage done by industrial firms which had not been properly monitored by the government. The opportunities and risks of the peaceful use of nuclear energy were discussed and generated much controversy. In foreign affairs, further SALT negotiations
continued the detente policy with the Soviet Union.

In 1976, the Democratic Party candidate 2 Jimmy Carter won the presidential election.

3 Republican President Gerald R. Ford

1 American drivers stand in line at a gas station in Los Angeles

2 James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, 1983

Carter strengthened the international efforts of the United States in the areas of human and civil rights— both traditional Democratic party concerns—which was also visible in the improved relations with the regimes of Latin America, although his approach was somewhat naive and often based on trust in corrupt and brutal regimes.

His greatest foreign policy success was the 4 mediation of a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1979.

After the signing of 5 SALT 11 in 1979, the detente policy suffered a crisis in 1980 due to the invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet troops.

American wheat shipments to the Soviet Union were suspended, and the Olympic Games in Moscow were boycotted by the United States and the majority of its allies.

The Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 also caused serious difficulties for the United States, which had supported the Shah.

In November 1979, more than 50 US citizens were taken hostage in the 6 US embassy in Tehran.

An unsuccessful military rescue attempt in April 1980 significantly contributed to Carter's electoral defeat in the presidential race against the conservative Ronald Reagan.

4 Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (left), U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin make a three-way handshake at the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty.

5 First encounter between Carter and Brezhnev: Signing of the SALT II treaty for the reduction of strategic weapons, Vienna, June 15, 1979

6 American hostages are led to the site of the
US embassy in Tehran; the hostage-takers
demand extradition of the deposed Shah Reza
Pahlavi, November 1979



 Gerald R. Ford

Gerald R. Ford

president of United States
in full Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr., original name Leslie Lynch King, Jr.

born July 14, 1913, Omaha, Neb., U.S.
died Dec. 26, 2006, Rancho Mirage, Calif.

38th president of the United States (1974–77), who, as 40th vice president, succeeded to the presidency on the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon under the process decreed by the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution and thereby became the country’s only chief executive who was not elected as either president or vice president. His first act upon assuming office was to grant his predecessor “a full, free, and absolute pardon.”

While Ford was still an infant, his parents were divorced, and his mother moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., where she married Gerald R. Ford, Sr., who adopted the boy and gave him his name. After graduating from the University of Michigan (1935), where he was a star gridiron-football player, Ford worked as an assistant coach while he earned a law degree from Yale University (1941). He joined the navy during World War II and served in the South Pacific, attaining the rank of lieutenant commander and nearly losing his life in 1944 during a deadly typhoon that killed hundreds. In 1948, the year he won his first elective office, as Republican congressman from Michigan, he married Elizabeth Anne Bloomer (Betty Ford), with whom he had four children—three sons (Michael, John, and Steven) and one daughter (Susan).

Ford served in Congress for 25 years. Well-liked and ideologically flexible, he won the role of House minority leader in 1965 and held this position until Nixon named him vice president in 1973. During his time in Congress, he had developed a reputation for honesty and openness. When Nixon’s vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, was forced to resign from office in disgrace, the president had no choice but to nominate the only Republican whom the Democratic leadership of Congress would approve, the affable Jerry Ford.

In 1974, when it became clear that Nixon would face criminal charges for his role in the Watergate Scandal and three articles of impeachment had been passed by the House Judiciary Committee, Nixon resigned, effective August 9. On that day, Ford took the oath of office and became president, stating, “Our long national nightmare is over.” He retained the foreign and domestic policy staffs of the Nixon administration, including Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter

president of United States
in full James Earl Carter, Jr.

born Oct. 1, 1924, Plains, Ga., U.S.

39th president of the United States (1977–81), who served as the nation’s chief executive during a time of serious problems at home and abroad. His perceived inability to deal successfully with those problems led to an overwhelming defeat in his bid for reelection. After leaving office he embarked on a career of diplomacy and advocacy, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2002.

The son of Earl Carter, a peanut warehouser who had served in the Georgia state legislature, and Lillian Gordy Carter, a registered nurse who went to India as a Peace Corps volunteer at age 68, Carter attended Georgia Southwestern College and the Georgia Institute of Technology before graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., in 1946. After marrying Rosalynn Smith (Rosalynn Carter)—who came from Carter’s small hometown, Plains, Ga.—he embarked on a seven-year career in the U.S. Navy, serving submarine duty for five years. He was preparing to become an engineering officer for the submarine Seawolf in 1953 when his father died. Carter resigned his commission and returned to Georgia to manage the family peanut farm operations.

Beginning his political career by serving on the local board of education, Carter won election as a Democrat to the Georgia State Senate in 1962 and was reelected in 1964. In 1966 he failed in a bid for the governorship and, depressed by this experience, found solace in evangelical Christianity, becoming a born-again Baptist. Prior to running again for governor and winning in 1970, Carter at least tacitly adhered to a segregationist approach; however, in his inaugural address he announced that “the time for racial discrimination is over” and proceeded to open Georgia’s government offices to blacks—and to women. As governor he reorganized the existing maze of state agencies and consolidated them into larger units while introducing stricter budgeting procedures for them. In the process he came to national attention, finding his way onto the cover of Time magazine as a symbol of both good government and the “New South.”

In 1974, just before his term as governor ended, Carter announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president. Although lacking a national political base or major backing, he managed through tireless and systematic campaigning to assemble a broad constituency. In the aftermath of the Watergate Scandal, which had raised widespread concern about the power of the presidency and the integrity of the executive branch, Carter styled himself as an outsider to Washington, D.C., a man of strong principles who could restore the faith of the American people in their leaders. Ironically, Carter’s moral stance and candour caused a small stir when, during the campaign, he admitted in an interview with Playboy magazine that he had “committed adultery in [his] heart many times.”

Winning the Democratic nomination in July 1976, Carter chose the liberal Sen. Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota as his running mate. Carter’s opponent was the unelected incumbent Republican president, Gerald R. Ford, who had come into office in 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of Watergate. Many believed that the close race tipped in Carter’s favour after Ford stumbled in a televised debate by saying that eastern Europe was not dominated by the Soviet Union. In November 1976 the Carter-Mondale ticket won the election, capturing 51 percent of the popular vote and garnering 297 electoral votes to Ford’s 240.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Anti-communism and Disarmament: The US in the 1980s

Both internally and externally, Reagan followed a strictly anticommunist policy. With Gorbachev coming to power in 1985, the two superpowers were able to begin disarmament talks.


Former California governor and Republican party candidate 8 Ronald Reagan's promise to reinstate the military and political global supremacy of the United States helped him win the presidency in 1981.

With his election, a more conservative America emerged both domestically and internationally. The traditional Christian lobbies, whose power had declined in the 1960s and i9~os, gained in influence. Reagan successfully boosted the economy through cutbacks in public spending, particularly for welfare programs, while simultaneously lowering taxes. This also increased the gap between rich and poor, however. Concurrently Reagan sharply increased military spending.

The planning of a 7 space-based defense system—the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)—cost billions of dollars.

Reagan's rhetoric against the Soviet Union, which he described as the "Evil Empire," was backed up by his policies. He imposed economic sanctions following Soviet support of martial law in Poland in 1981. The United States supported anti-communist movements worldwide, particularly in Latin America and the Near East, regardless of their governance and human rights records. In Nicaragua the Contras who worked against the leftist Sandinistas were supported by US funds and weapons via the CIA. This led to much controversy following journalistic investigations of the administration's involvement in this proceeding.

US troops in 1982 intervened in the 12 civil war in Lebanon and in 1983 overthrew the left-wing government of the Caribbean island of Grenada.

8 Republican President Ronald Reagan, ca. 1984

7 Diagram of a Soviet orbit shuttle, from a study on the military strength of the Soviet Union, April 1985

12 US Marines leave Beirut in
armored vehicles, February 1984

After failed disarmament talks with the Soviet Union in 1983, new nuclear intermediate-range ballistic missiles were stationed in West Germany as a reminder of US military power in Europe.

After his 1984 reelection, Reagan took advantage of the opportunities for adjustment offered by the Soviet reform policies introduced by the new general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev. After several American-Soviet summits, in 1987 a breakthrough came on the disarmament question.

Following an 9 agreement on the worldwide reduction of land-based missiles—the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty—the 10 nuclear weapons arsenal for the first time began to decrease.

9 Ronald Reagan (right) and the Soviet party leader Michail Gorbachev sign the INF treaty, 1987

10 Disarmament: Preparation for the destruction
of the first Soviet medium-range rockets,
August 10, 1988

The sale of weapons to Iran and the diversion of the funds to the Contras in Nicaragua became public knowledge in November 1986 and became the Iran-Contra Affair, which weakened the Reagan government.

In 1988, 11 Vice President George H. W. Bush was elected as Reagan's successor.

Under his presidency, the change in the global political situation—caused by the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the Soviet Union in 1989-1991—was completed.

11 The Republican President
George H.W. Bush in October 1988



Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan

president of United States
in full Ronald Wilson Reagan

born February 6, 1911, Tampico, Illinois, U.S.
died June 5, 2004, Los Angeles, California

40th president of the United States (1981–89), noted for his conservative Republicanism, his fervent anticommunism, and his appealing personal style, characterized by a jaunty affability and folksy charm. The only movie actor ever to become president, he had a remarkable skill as an orator that earned him the title “the Great Communicator.” His policies have been credited with contributing to the demise of Soviet communism.

Early life and acting career
Reagan was the second child of John Edward (“Jack”) Reagan, a struggling shoe salesman, and Nelle Wilson Reagan. Reagan’s nickname, “Dutch,” derived from his father’s habit of referring to his infant son as his “fat little Dutchman.” After several years of moving from town to town—made necessary in part because of Jack Reagan’s alcoholism, which made it difficult for him to hold a job—the family settled in Dixon, Illinois, in 1920. Despite their near poverty and his father’s drinking problem, Reagan later recalled his childhood in Dixon as the happiest period of his life. At Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois, Reagan played gridiron football and was active in the drama society but earned only passing grades. A popular student, he was elected class president in his senior year. Graduating in 1932 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and sociology, he decided to enter radio broadcasting. He landed a job as a sportscaster at station WOC in Davenport, Iowa, by delivering entirely from memory an exciting play-by-play description of a Eureka College football game. Later he moved to station WHO in Des Moines, where, as sportscaster “Dutch Reagan,” he became popular throughout the state for his broadcasts of Chicago Cubs baseball games. Because the station could not afford to send him to Wrigley Field in Chicago, Reagan was forced to improvise a running account of the games based on sketchy details delivered over a teletype machine.

In 1937 Reagan followed the Cubs to their spring training camp in southern California, a trip he undertook partly in order to try his hand at movie acting. After a successful screen test at Warner Brothers, he was soon typecast in a series of mostly B movies as a sincere, wholesome, easygoing “good guy.” (As many observers have noted, the characters that Reagan portrayed in the movies were remarkably like Reagan himself.) During the next 27 years, he appeared in more than 50 films, notably including Knute Rockne—All American (1940), Kings Row (1942), and The Hasty Heart (1950). In 1938, while filming Brother Rat, Reagan became engaged to his costar Jane Wyman, and the couple married in Hollywood two years later. They had a daughter, Maureen, in 1941 and adopted a son, Michael, a few days after his birth in 1945. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1948. Reagan was the only president to have been divorced.

Commissioned a cavalry officer at the outbreak of World War II, Reagan was assigned to an army film unit based in Los Angeles, where he spent the rest of the war making training films. Although he never left the country and never saw combat, he and Wyman cooperated with the efforts of Warner Brothers to portray him as a real soldier to the public, and in newsreels and magazine photos he acted out scenes of “going off to war” and “coming home on leave.” After leaving Hollywood, Reagan became known for occasionally telling stories about his past—including stories about his happiness at “coming back from the war”—that were actually based on fictional episodes in movies. Some of Reagan’s detractors pointed to such lapses to suggest that he lacked a basic interest in the truth and that he had trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy.

Reagan had absorbed the liberal Democratic opinions of his father and became a great admirer of Franklin Roosevelt after his election in 1932. Reagan’s father eventually found work as an administrator in a New Deal office established in the Dixon area, a fact that Reagan continued to appreciate even after his political opinion of Roosevelt had dramatically changed.

From 1947 to 1952 Reagan served as president of the union of movie actors, the Screen Actors Guild. He fought against communist infiltration in the guild, crossing picket lines to break the sometimes violent strikes. (Such violence and chaos were abhorrent to Reagan, and, when police and students clashed in Berkeley in May 1969, Reagan, as governor of California, called out the National Guard to restore order.) Much to the disgust of union members, he testified as a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee and cooperated in the blacklisting of actors, directors, and writers suspected of leftist sympathies. Although Reagan was still a Democrat at the time (he campaigned for Harry Truman in the presidential election of 1948), his political opinions were gradually growing more conservative. After initially supporting Democratic senatorial candidate Helen Douglas in 1950, he switched his allegiance to Republican Richard Nixon midway through the campaign. He supported Republican Dwight Eisenhower in the presidential elections of 1952 and 1956, and in 1960 he delivered 200 speeches in support of Nixon’s campaign for president against Democrat John F. Kennedy. He officially changed his party affiliation to Republican in 1962.

Reagan met Nancy Davis (Nancy Reagan), a relatively unknown actress, at a dinner party in 1949, and the two were married in a simple ceremony in 1952, at which actor William Holden was best man. The Reagans appeared together in the war movie Hell Cats of the Navy in 1957. Nancy Reagan’s conservative political views encouraged her husband’s drift to the right.

After his acting career began to decline in the 1950s, Reagan became the host of a television drama series, General Electric Theater, as well as spokesman for the General Electric Company. In the latter capacity he toured GE plants around the country, delivering inspirational speeches with a generally conservative, pro-business message. Eventually, however, his speeches became too controversial for the company’s taste, and he was fired as both spokesman and television host in 1962.

Ronald Reagan

Governorship of California
Reagan campaigned actively for Nixon in his run for governor of California in 1962 and supported the presidential candidacy of conservative Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964, serving as cochairman of California Republicans for Goldwater. In the last week of the campaign, he delivered a 30-minute nationally televised address, “A Time for Choosing,” that The Washington Post described as “the most successful political debut since William Jennings Bryan electrified the 1896 Democratic convention with his ‘Cross of Gold’ speech.” Reagan’s speech, which resulted in $1 million in campaign contributions for Republican candidates (the most attributable to any political speech in history), catapulted him onto the national political stage and made him an instant hero of the Republican right.

Reagan announced his candidacy for governor of California in 1966. The incumbent, Democrat Edmund G. (“Pat”) Brown (who had defeated Nixon’s challenge in 1962), ridiculed Reagan’s lack of experience, declaring that while he (Brown) had been serving the public, Reagan was making Bedtime for Bonzo, a 1951 movie in which Reagan starred with a chimpanzee. But Reagan turned this apparent liability into an asset by portraying himself as an ordinary citizen who was fed up with a state government that had become inefficient and unaccountable. The public also reacted well to Reagan’s personality, in particular to his apparent genuineness, affability, and self-deprecating sense of humour. (When asked by a reporter how he would perform in office, Reagan replied, “I don’t know. I’ve never played a governor.”) Reagan won the election by nearly one million votes. During his two terms as governor (1966–74), Reagan erased a substantial budget deficit inherited from the Brown administration (through the largest tax increase in the history of any state to that time) and instituted reforms in the state’s welfare programs. As some observers have noted, Reagan’s administrative style as governor was essentially the same as the one he would later adopt as president: he left most of the day-to-day business of government to assistants and department heads, preferring to focus on larger issues of policy and vision. Reagan followed a rigid schedule, which his aides would prepare and type up for him daily.

Reagan made a halfhearted bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 as a favourite-son candidate, finishing third behind Nixon and former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller. During his remaining years as governor, he made plans for a more serious run for the presidency, expecting that his chance would come in 1976, at the anticipated end of Nixon’s second term. But Nixon’s resignation in 1974 put Vice President Gerald Ford in the Oval Office. Unwilling to wait another eight years, Reagan challenged Ford with a blistering critique of his policies and appointments but lost the nomination by 60 votes.

Election of 1980
Reagan dominated the Republican primary elections in 1980. Although his strongest opponent, George Bush, won an upset victory in the Iowa caucuses, Reagan bounced back after a notable performance in a debate with other Republican candidates in Nashua, New Hampshire. The debate, initially sponsored by a newspaper, was first extended to only Reagan and Bush, but Reagan decided to pay for the debate and invite the rest of the candidates. When all the candidates took the stage that evening, the Bush team appeared surprised, and, as Reagan began to explain the situation, the moderator from the newspaper instructed that Reagan’s microphone be turned off. Reagan responded memorably with an angry line he remembered from a Spencer Tracy movie: “I am paying for this microphone!” Reagan went on to win New Hampshire and most of the other major primaries and entered the convention with a commanding lead; he won the nomination on the first ballot with 1,939 votes to 37 for John Anderson and 13 for Bush, who had withdrawn from the contest before the vote. After some tense and ultimately fruitless negotiations with representatives of Ford, Reagan chose Bush as his running mate, and the two men campaigned against Democratic incumbents Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale on a platform promising steep tax cuts, increased defense spending, a balanced budget, and a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.

Carter began the campaign in a vulnerable position. Inflation had increased from 6 percent to more than 12 percent since his first year in office, and unemployment and interest rates were also high. An even more important factor than the economy, however, was Carter’s apparent inability to resolve the Iran hostage crisis, which had continued for almost a year at the time of the election. On November 4, 1979, a mob of Iranian students had stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehrān and taken the diplomatic staff there hostage. In April 1980, after months of fruitless negotiations with students and officials of Iran’s revolutionary government (which had sanctioned the takeover), Carter ordered a military rescue operation, which failed dramatically. The hostage crisis contributed to a general public perception of the Carter administration as weak and indecisive, and the failed rescue mission reinforced Reagan’s charge that the Democrats had allowed the country’s military to deteriorate badly. In their only debate of the campaign, Reagan memorably reminded his national television audience of the country’s economic problems by asking, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Carter, for his part, tried to make the most of Reagan’s image among some of the electorate as an extremist and a warmonger, charging that as president Reagan would eliminate cherished social programs and threaten world peace. Reagan’s smiling response to such charges—“There you go again” (a line he had practiced in preparation for the debate)—did not directly address the point, but it did convey a disarming image of sincerity, self-confidence, and friendliness, which most voters found appealing. On election day Reagan defeated Carter and John Anderson (who ran as an independent) with slightly more than half the popular vote, against Carter’s 41 percent and Anderson’s 7 percent. The vote in the electoral college was 489 to Carter’s 49.

Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan waving from the limousine during the
Inaugural Parade in Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day, 1981

First days
Reagan’s presidency began on a dramatic note when, after the inaugural ceremony (see original text), he announced at a luncheon that Iran had agreed to release the remaining American hostages. The timing of Iran’s decision led to suspicions, which were never substantiated, that the Reagan campaign had made a secret deal with the Iranians to prevent the Carter administration from unveiling a so-called “October surprise”—the release of the hostages in October 1980, before election day. Then, on March 30, 1981, a deranged drifter named John W. Hinckley, Jr., fired six shots from a .22-calibre revolver at Reagan as he left a Washington, D.C., hotel. One of the bullets entered Reagan’s chest, puncturing a lung and lodging one inch from his heart; another critically wounded Press Secretary James Brady. Rushed to George Washington University Hospital for emergency surgery, Reagan joked with doctors as he was being wheeled into the operating room: “I hope you’re all Republicans.” After his release 12 days later, Reagan made a series of carefully staged public appearances designed to give the impression that he was recovering quickly, though in fact he remained seriously weakened for months and his workload was sharply curtailed.

In August 1981, 13,000 members of the national union of air traffic controllers, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO)—one of the few unions to endorse Reagan in the 1980 election—walked off their jobs, demanding higher pay and better working conditions. As federal employees, the PATCO members were forbidden by law to strike, and Reagan, on the advice of Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis, refused to negotiate and gave them 48 hours to return to work. Most of the striking controllers ignored the ultimatum and were promptly fired. Although the firings caused delays and reductions in air traffic until replacements were hired and trained, the public generally reacted positively to Reagan’s action, seeing it as a sign of decisiveness and conviction. As he later wrote, it “convinced people who might have thought otherwise that I meant what I said.”

Domestic policies
Following the so-called “supply-side” economic program he propounded in his campaign, Reagan proposed massive tax cuts—30 percent reductions in both individual and corporate income taxes over a three-year period—which he believed would stimulate the economy and eventually increase revenues from taxes as income levels grew. At the same time, he proposed large increases in military expenditures ($1.5 trillion over a five-year period) and significant cuts in “discretionary” spending on social-welfare programs such as education, food stamps, low-income housing, school lunches for poor children, Medicaid (the major program of health insurance for the poor), and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). In 1981 Congress passed most of the president’s budget proposals, though the tax cut was scaled back slightly, to 25 percent.

The results were mixed. A severe recession in 1982 pushed the nation’s unemployment rate to nearly 11 percent, the highest it had been since the Great Depression. Bankruptcies and farm foreclosures reached record levels. The country’s trade deficit increased from $25 billion in 1980 to $111 billion in 1984. In addition, the huge increases in military spending, combined with insufficient cuts in other programs, produced massive budget deficits, the largest in the country’s history; by the end of Reagan’s second term, the deficits would contribute to a tripling of the national debt, to more than $2.5 trillion. In order to address the deficit problem, Reagan backed away from strict supply-side theories to support a $98.3 billion tax increase in 1982. By early 1983 the economy had begun to recover, and by the end of that year unemployment and inflation were significantly reduced; they remained relatively low in later years. Economic growth continued through the remainder of Reagan’s presidency, a period that his supporters would hail as “the longest peacetime expansion in American history.” Critics charged that the tax cuts and the fruits of economic growth benefited mainly the wealthy and that the gap between rich and poor had grown wider.

In keeping with his aim of reducing the role of government in the country’s economic life, Reagan cut the budgets of many government departments and relaxed or ignored the enforcement of laws and regulations administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of the Interior, the Department of Transportation, and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, among other agencies. After the administration and Congress reduced regulations governing the savings and loan industry in the early 1980s, many savings institutions expanded recklessly through the decade and eventually collapsed, requiring bailouts by the federal government that cost taxpayers some $500 billion.

During his tenure in office, Reagan appointed more than half the federal judiciary and three new justices of the Supreme Court: Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, Anthony Kennedy, and Antonin Scalia. He also elevated William Rehnquist to chief justice in 1986 upon the retirement of Warren Burger.

Foreign affairs
When he entered office in 1980, Reagan believed that the United States had grown weak militarily and had lost the respect it once commanded in world affairs. Aiming to restore the country to a position of moral as well as military preeminence in the world, he called for massive increases in the defense budget to expand and modernize the military and urged a more aggressive approach to combating communism and related forms of leftist totalitarianism.

Relations with the Soviet Union
Reagan’s militant anticommunism, combined with his penchant for harsh anti-Soviet rhetoric, was one of many factors that contributed to a worsening of relations with the Soviet Union in the first years of his presidency. At his first press conference as president, Reagan audaciously questioned the legitimacy of the Soviet government; two years later, in a memorable speech in Florida, he denounced the Soviet Union as “an evil empire” and “the focus of evil in the modern world.” (The Soviets responded by saying that Reagan’s remarks showed that his administration “can think only in terms of confrontation and bellicose, lunatic anticommunism.”) The behaviour of the Soviet Union itself also strained relations—especially in December 1981, when the communist government of Poland, under intense pressure from Moscow, imposed martial law on the country to suppress the independent labour movement Solidarity; and in September 1983, when the Soviets shot down a Korean airliner en route from Alaska to Seoul as it strayed over strategically sensitive territory on Sakhalin Island. All 269 people aboard were killed, including 61 Americans. Reagan’s massive military spending program, the largest in American peacetime history, was undoubtedly another factor, though some observers argued that the buildup—through the strain it imposed on the Soviet economy—was actually responsible for a host of positive developments in Reagan’s second term, including a more accommodating Soviet position in arms negotiations, a weakening of the influence of hard-liners in the Soviet leadership, making possible the glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”) policies of moderate Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after 1985, and even the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself in 1990–91.

A significant component of Reagan’s military buildup was his 1983 proposal for a space-based missile defense system that would use lasers and other as-yet-undeveloped killing technologies to destroy incoming Soviet nuclear missiles well before they could reach their targets in the United States. The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), dubbed “Star Wars” after the popular science-fiction movie of the late 1970s, was denounced by the Soviets, including Gorbachev, as a dangerous escalation of the arms race, a position also taken by many critics at home. Meanwhile, others argued that the project was technologically impossible and potentially a “black hole” in the country’s defense budget. In later years, however, former Soviet officials cited SDI as a factor in the eventual collapse of their country, for it showed that the Soviet Union was politically unprepared for and economically incapable of competing in a new arms race with the United States, especially one led by someone as unrelenting as Reagan. Although Reagan never abandoned his support for SDI, it was eventually reconceived as a much smaller and more conventional defensive system than the one he originally proposed.

U.S.-Soviet relations improved considerably during Reagan’s second term, not least because Reagan softened his anticommunist rhetoric and adopted a more encouraging tone toward the changes then taking place in the Soviet Union. At a dramatic summit meeting in Reykjavík, Iceland, in October 1986, Gorbachev proposed a 50 percent reduction in the nuclear arsenals of each side, and for a time it seemed as though a historic agreement would be reached. Although the summit ended in failure owing to differences over SDI, it was followed up in December 1987 by a treaty eliminating intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) on European soil. The INF Treaty was the first arms-control pact to require an actual reduction in nuclear arsenals rather than merely restricting their proliferation.

Ronald Reagan speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate and the
Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987.

The Middle East and Central America
Following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, Reagan dispatched 800 Marines to join an international force to oversee the evacuation of Palestinian guerrillas from West Beirut, then surrounded by Israeli troops. After Israel withdrew its troops from the Beirut area in September 1983, the Marine contingent remained—along with forces from Italy, France, and Britain—to protect the fragile Lebanese government, thereby identifying itself with one of the factions in the country’s long and bloody civil war, which had begun in 1975. On the morning of October 23, 1983, a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with explosives into the Marine compound at the Beirut airport, killing 241 Marines and wounding 100 others. Although later investigations blamed the Marine chain of command for poor security at the base and “serious errors in judgment,” Reagan decided to accept full blame for the tragedy himself, saying that the Marine commanders had “suffered enough.” Reagan withdrew the Marines from Lebanon in February 1984.

Meanwhile, in the Caribbean island nation of Grenada, Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was deposed and executed in a bloody coup by radical elements of his leftist New Jewel Movement. Less than a week later, and only one day after the bombing of the Marine compound in Lebanon, Reagan ordered an invasion, which he justified as necessary to prevent the country from becoming a dangerous Soviet outpost and to protect American students at the medical school there. Joined by a contingent of troops from neighbouring Caribbean countries, U.S. forces quickly subdued elements of the Grenadan army and a small number of Cuban soldiers and construction workers. Critics immediately charged that the administration had staged the invasion to divert public attention from the bombing in Lebanon.

In January 1986 Reagan announced the imposition of economic sanctions on Libya and froze the country’s assets in the United States, charging the Libyan government of General Muammar al-Qaddafi with sponsoring acts of international terrorism, including the December 1985 attacks on offices of the Israeli airline El Al in Rome and Vienna. In March a U.S. Navy task force conducted “freedom of navigation” exercises in the Gulf of Sidra, beyond the self-proclaimed territorial boundary Libya called the “Line of Death.” Libya fired antiaircraft missiles at American warplanes, and the United States responded with attacks on Libyan ships and missile installations. Then, on April 5, two people, including an American serviceman, were killed by a bomb explosion in a discotheque in West Berlin. Blaming Libya, the United States carried out retaliatory bombing raids on “terrorist-related targets” in Libya on April 14–15, including an attack on Qaddafi’s residential compound in Tripoli.

In keeping with Reagan’s belief that the United States should do more to prevent the spread of communism, his administration expanded military and economic assistance to friendly Third World governments battling leftist insurgencies, and he actively supported guerrilla movements and other opposition forces in countries with leftist governments. This policy, which became known as the Reagan Doctrine, was applied with particular zeal in Latin America. During the 1980s the United States supported military-dominated governments in El Salvador in a bloody civil war with the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional; FMLN), providing the country with some $4 billion in military and economic aid and helping to organize and train elite units of the Salvadoran army. In Nicaragua, following the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional; FSLN) in 1979, the Sandinista government strengthened its ties to Cuba and other countries of the socialist bloc, a move that the Reagan administration regarded as a threat to the national security of the United States. In 1981 Reagan authorized $20 million to recruit and train a band of anti-Sandinista guerrillas, many of whom were former supporters of Somoza, to overthrow the Sandinista government. Numbering about 15,000 by the mid-1980s, the “Contras,” as they came to be called, were never a serious military threat to the Sandinistas, though they did cause millions of dollars in damage to the Nicaraguan economy through their attacks on farms and cooperatives, infrastructure, and other civilian targets. Using its influence in international lending agencies such as the World Bank, the United States was able to block most Nicaraguan loan requests from 1982, and in 1985 the administration declared a trade embargo. These measures, combined with Contra attacks and the Sandinista’s own mismanagement, effectively undermined the Nicaraguan economy by the end of the 1980s.

The Iran-Contra Affair
At the time of the presidential election of 1984, Reagan was at the height of his popularity. Using slogans such as “It’s morning in America” and “America is back,” his reelection campaign emphasized the country’s economic prosperity and its renewed leadership role in world affairs. On election day Reagan and Bush easily defeated their Democratic opponents, Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro, by 59 percent to 41 percent of the popular vote; in the electoral college Reagan received 525 votes to Mondale’s 13, the largest number of electoral votes of any candidate in history. With most of the country behind him, Reagan’s prospects in his second term appeared bright.  Only two years later, however, he would become embroiled in the worst scandal of his political career, one that would cost him much popular and party support and significantly impair his ability to lead the country.

In early November 1985, at the suggestion of the head of the National Security Council (NSC), William (“Bud”) McFarlane, Reagan authorized a secret initiative to sell antitank and antiaircraft missiles to Iran in exchange for that country’s help in securing the release of Americans held hostage by terrorist groups in Lebanon. The initiative directly contradicted the administration’s publicly stated policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists or to aid countries—such as Iran—that supported international terrorism. News of the arms-for-hostages deal, first made public in November 1986 (only one month after Reagan ordered raids on Libya in retaliation for its alleged involvement in the Berlin bombing), proved intensely embarrassing to the president. Even more damaging, however, was the announcement later that month by Attorney General Edwin Meese that a portion of the $48 million earned from the sales had been diverted to a secret fund to purchase weapons and supplies for the Contras in Nicaragua. The diversion was undertaken by an obscure NSC aide, U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, with the approval of McFarlane’s successor at the NSC, Rear Admiral John Poindexter. (North, as it was later revealed, had also engaged in private fund-raising for the Contras.) These activities constituted a violation of a law passed by Congress in 1984 (the second Boland Amendment) that forbade direct or indirect American military aid to the Contra insurgency.

In response to the crisis, by this time known as the Iran-Contra Affair, Reagan fired both North and Poindexter and appointed a special commission, headed by former senator John Tower of Texas (the Tower Commission), to investigate the matter. An independent counsel, Judge Lawrence Walsh, was also appointed, and the House and Senate began joint hearings to examine both the arms sales and the military assistance to the Contras. As a result of Walsh’s investigations, North and Poindexter were convicted on charges of obstructing justice and related offenses, but their convictions were overturned on appeal, on the ground that testimony given at their trials had been influenced by information they had supplied to Congress under a limited grant of immunity. Reagan accepted responsibility for the arms-for-hostages deal but denied any knowledge of the diversion. Although no evidence came to light to indicate that he was more deeply involved, many in Congress and the public remained skeptical. Nevertheless, most of the public eventually appeared willing to forgive him for whatever they thought he had done, and his popularity, which had dropped dramatically during the first months of the crisis, gradually recovered.

Retirement and declining health
In the presidential election of 1988, Reagan campaigned actively for the Republican nominee, Vice President Bush. In large part because of Reagan’s continued popularity, Bush defeated Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis by 53 percent to 46 percent in the popular vote; the vote in the electoral college was 426 to 111. Reagan retired to his home in Los Angeles, where he wrote his autobiography, An American Life (1990). In 1994, in a letter to the American people, Reagan disclosed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer disease, a degenerative brain disorder.

To some observers Reagan’s declining health had been evident for many years. Mindful of her husband’s diminished capacity, Nancy Reagan occasionally would screen him from the press by intercepting reporters’ questions and then whispering an appropriate response in his ear. Reagan’s health problems made public appearances difficult for the former president, but his popularity hardly waned. National Airport in Washington, D.C., was renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport by Congress and President Bill Clinton in February 1998. Reagan’s conservative policies and heated rhetoric had always infuriated liberals, and his administration had experienced its share of scandals and disappointments. But to his millions of fans and political admirers, this tribute was the least the government could do for the man who had helped to end the Cold War and restored, however fleetingly, the country’s confidence in itself and its faith in a better tomorrow.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



George Herbert Walker Bush

George Herbert Walker Bush

president of United States
in full George Herbert Walker Bush

born June 12, 1924, Milton, Mass., U.S.

politician and businessman who was vice president of the United States (1981–89) and the 41st president of the United States (1989–93). As president, Bush assembled a multinational force to compel the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War.

Early life and career
Bush was the son of Prescott Sheldon Bush, an investment banker and U.S. senator from Connecticut, and Dorothy Walker Bush, scion of a prominent St. Louis, Mo., family. (Her father established the amateur golf competition known as the Walker Cup.) The young Bush grew up in Greenwich, Conn., and attended private schools there and in Andover, Mass. Upon graduation from Phillips Academy, Andover, he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve. He served from 1942 to 1944 as a torpedo bomber pilot on aircraft carriers in the Pacific during World War II, flying some 58 combat missions; he was shot down by the Japanese in 1944. For his service he won the Distinguished Flying Cross. In January 1945 he married Barbara Pierce (Barbara Bush).

Following the family tradition, Bush attended Yale University, graduating in 1948. His membership in the Skull and Bones secret society there later became an issue that his critics used as evidence of elitism. Rejecting a position in his father’s firm, he moved with his young family to Texas and became a salesman of oil-field supplies. He cofounded the Bush-Overbey Oil Development Company (1951), the Zapata Petroleum Corporation (1953), and the Zapata Off-Shore Company (1954). In 1959 he became active in the Republican Party in Houston. After losing a campaign for the U.S. Senate to Democrat Ralph Yarborough in 1964, Bush was elected in 1966 to a safely Republican seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He gave up the seat in 1970 to run again for the Senate. He was defeated again, this time by Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, Jr. Shortly after his defeat, Bush was appointed by Pres. Richard M. Nixon to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (UN; 1971–72). In 1973, as the Watergate Scandal was erupting, Bush became chairman of the Republican National Committee. In this post, he stood by Nixon until August 1974, when he joined a growing chorus of voices calling on the president to resign. Later that year, Pres. Gerald R. Ford, who had nominated Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president, named a disappointed Bush chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing—which was then the senior U.S. representative in China, because relations between the two countries did not permit the exchange of ambassadors. He served in this capacity until he was asked to head the Central Intelligence Agency in 1976. As CIA director, Bush took steps to ensure that the agency’s activities did not exceed congressional authorization. When Jimmy Carter took office in 1977, Bush resigned and returned to Texas, where in 1979 he announced his candidacy for president.

Vice presidency
After declaring that his opponent, the more popular and conservative Ronald W. Reagan, would have to practice “voodoo economics” in order to increase federal revenue by lowering taxes, Bush abandoned his campaign for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in May 1980 and threw his support behind Reagan, who then chose Bush as his running mate. The Reagan-Bush ticket defeated the Democratic ticket of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale by a wide margin in the 1980 presidential election. Bush won Reagan’s loyalty, and the two were reelected in 1984 for a second term in an even greater landslide.

As vice president, Bush traveled more than one million miles as the administration’s representative. When asked about his involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair—in which the Reagan administration, in violation of a law passed by Congress in 1984, used funds from the illegal sale of arms to Iran to fund Contra rebels fighting the Marxist government of Nicaragua—Bush claimed that he was “out of the loop,” though he did admit knowing about the arms sale to Iran. In 1987 he published an autobiography, Looking Forward (written with Victor Gold).

An early and leading candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency in 1988, he secured the nomination and, together with his running mate, Dan Quayle, defeated the Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis, winning 53 percent of the popular vote to Dukakis’s 46 percent. Although Bush had called for “a kinder, and gentler, nation” in his speech accepting the nomination, his campaign was negative, at one point criticizing Dukakis with a phrase—“card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union”—reminiscent of that used by Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare of the early 1950s. Bush also won supporters with his pledge to continue the Reagan economic program, repeatedly stating: “Read my lips, no new taxes!” (See primary source document: Inaugural Address.)

Bush and Gorbachev at the Malta summit in 1989

Upon assuming office, Bush made a number of notable senior staff appointments, among them that of Gen. Colin Powell to chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. His other important policy makers included James Baker as secretary of state and William Bennett as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In the course of his presidency, he also nominated two Supreme Court justices, David H. Souter (to replace the retiring William J. Brennan) and the more controversial Clarence Thomas (to replace Thurgood Marshall).

From the outset of his presidency, however, Bush demonstrated far more interest in foreign than domestic policy. In December 1989, he ordered a military invasion of Panama in order to topple that country’s leader, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, who—though at one time of service to the U.S. government—had become notorious for his brutality and his involvement in the drug trade. The invasion, which lasted four days, resulted in hundreds of deaths, mostly of Panamanians, and the operation was denounced by both the Organization of American States and the UN General Assembly.

Bush’s presidency coincided with world events of large proportion, including the collapse of communism in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany. In November 1990 Bush met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Paris and signed a mutual nonaggression pact, a symbolic conclusion to the Cold War. They also signed treaties sharply reducing the number of weapons that the two superpowers had stockpiled over the decades of Cold War hostility.

In August 1990, Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait. Bush led a worldwide UN-approved embargo against Iraq to force its withdrawal and sent a U.S. military contingent to Saudi Arabia to counteract Iraqi pressure and intimidation. Perhaps his most significant diplomatic achievement was the skillful construction of a coalition of western European and Arab states against Iraq. Over the objections of those who favoured restraint, Bush increased the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf region to about 500,000 troops within a few months. When Iraq failed to withdraw from Kuwait, he authorized a U.S.-led air offensive that began on Jan. 16–17, 1991. The ensuing Persian Gulf War culminated in an Allied ground offensive in late February that decimated Iraq’s armies and restored Kuwait’s independence.

On the strength of his victory over Iraq and his competent leadership in foreign affairs, Bush’s approval rating soared to about 90 percent. This popularity soon waned, however, as an economic recession that began in late 1990 persisted into 1992. Throughout this period, Bush showed much less initiative in domestic affairs, though he initially worked with Congress in efforts to reduce the federal government’s continuing large budget deficits. A moderate conservative, he made no drastic departures from Reagan’s policies—except in taxes. In 1990, in a move that earned him the enmity of his conservative supporters and the distrust of many voters who had backed him in 1988, he reneged on his “read my lips” pledge and raised taxes in an attempt to cope with the soaring budget deficit.

Bush’s policy reversal on taxation and his inability to turn around the economy—his failure to put across what he called “the vision thing” to the American public—ultimately proved his downfall. Bush ran a lacklustre campaign for reelection in 1992. He faced a fierce early challenge from Patrick Buchanan in the Republican primary and then lost votes in the general election to third-party candidate Ross Perot. Meanwhile, Bush’s Democratic opponent, Bill Clinton of Arkansas, hammered away at the issue of the deteriorating economy. In the oft-repeated words of Clinton strategist James Carville, the key issue of the day was “the economy, stupid!” Bush, the first vice president since Martin Van Buren in 1836 to succeed directly to the presidency via an election rather than the death of the incumbent, lost to Clinton by a popular vote of 37 percent to Clinton’s 43 percent; Perot garnered an impressive 19 percent of the vote. In trying to explain how Bush—always an active man and an avid jogger—could have run such a lifeless campaign and performed so poorly in formal debates with Clinton, some analysts postulated that Bush was hampered by medication he had been taking to treat his atrial fibrillation, reportedly caused by Graves disease. Bush’s campaign managers vehemently denied the theory.

In his last weeks in office, Bush ordered a U.S. military-led mission to feed the starving citizens of war-torn Somalia, thereby placing U.S. marines in the crossfire of warring factions and inadvertently causing the deaths of 18 soldiers. Equally as controversial was his pardoning of six Reagan administration officials charged with illegal actions associated with the Iran-Contra Affair.

Bush and his wife, Barbara, returned to Houston on the day of Clinton’s inauguration and had little formal involvement with the Republican Party thereafter. His son George W. Bush, a popular two-term governor of Texas, successfully ran for president in 2000, becoming only the second son of a president to win the White House; the first was John Quincy Adams in 1824. Another son, Jeb, was elected governor of Florida in 1998. In 2005 Bush appeared with Clinton in a series of televised advertisements to raise funds for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami (2004) and Hurricane Katrina (2005). Bush was also named UN special envoy for the disaster resulting from the Indian Ocean tsunami

Encyclopaedia Britannica


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United States of America



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