Modern Age

Understanding the Modern Age: the 20th Century, the early 21st Century, and Today

The modern age saw a significant amount in advancement in technology, and however crazy things might have seemed with wars, frustration of institutions, protests, crime, things were crazier in previous periods.

Modern Age: 1950s – 1960s

The entry of the United States into World War II caused vast changes in virtually every aspect of American life in the modern age. Millions of men and women entered military service and saw parts of the world they would likely never have seen otherwise. The labor demands of war industries caused millions more Americans to move–largely to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts where most defense plants located. When World War II ended, the United States was in better economic condition than any other country in the world. Even the 300,000 combat deaths suffered by Americans paled in comparison to any other major belligerent.

Building on the economic base left after the war, American society became more affluent in the postwar years than most Americans could have imagined in their wildest dreams before or during the war. Public policy, like the so-called GI Bill of Rights passed in 1944, provided money for veterans to attend college, to purchase homes, and to buy farms. The overall impact of such public policies was almost incalculable, but it certainly aided returning veterans to better themselves and to begin forming families and having children in unprecedented numbers.

Not all Americans participated equally in these expanding life opportunities and in the growing economic prosperity during the modern age. The image and reality of overall economic prosperity–and the upward mobility it provided for many white Americans–was not lost on those who had largely been excluded from the full meaning of the American Dream, both before and after the war. As a consequence, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and American women became more aggressive in trying to win their full freedoms and civil rights as guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution during the postwar era.

The postwar world also presented Americans with a number of problems and issues. Flushed with their success against Germany and Japan in 1945, most Americans initially viewed their place in the postwar world with optimism and confidence. But within two years of the end of the war, new challenges and perceived threats had arisen to erode that confidence. By 1948, a new form of international tension had emerged–Cold War–between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies. In the next 20 years, the Cold War spawned many tensions between the two superpowers abroad and fears of Communist subversion gripped domestic politics at home.

In the twenty years following 1945, there was a broad political consensus concerning the Cold War and anti-Communism. Usually there was bipartisan support for most US foreign policy initiatives. After the United States intervened militarily in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, however, this political consensus began to break down. By 1968, strident debate among American about the Vietnam War signified that the Cold War consensus had shattered, perhaps beyond repair.

Modern Age: 1970s, 80s, and 90s

1980s 1990s

The 1980s (pronounced “nineteen-eighties”, shortened to “the ’80s” or “the Eighties”) was a decade that began January 1, 1980, and ended December 31, 1989.

This decade, of the modern age, saw a dominance of conservatism and free market economics, and a socioeconomic change due to advances in technology and a worldwide move away from planned economies and towards laissez-faire capitalism compared to the 1970s. As economic deconstruction increased in the developed world, multiple multinational corporations associated with the manufacturing industry relocated into Thailand, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan, and China. Japan and West Germany saw large economic growth during this decade. The AIDS epidemic became recognized in the 1980s and has since killed an estimated 39 million people (as of 2013). Global warming became well known to the scientific and political community in the 1980s.

The United Kingdom and the United States moved closer to supply-side economic policies, beginning a trend towards global instability of international trade that would pick up more steam in the following decade as the fall of the USSR made right-wing economic policy more powerful.

The final decade of the Cold War opened with the US-Soviet confrontation continuing largely without any interruption. Superpower tensions escalated rapidly as President Reagan scrapped the policy of détente and adopted a new, much more aggressive stance on the Soviet Union. The world came perilously close to nuclear war for the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, but the second half of the decade saw a dramatic easing of superpower tensions and ultimately the total collapse of Soviet communism.

Developing countries across the world faced economic and social difficulties as they suffered from multiple debt crises in the 1980s, requiring many of these countries to apply for financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Ethiopia witnessed widespread famine in the mid-1980s during the corrupt rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam, resulting in the country having to depend on foreign aid to provide food to its population and worldwide efforts to address and raise money to help Ethiopians, such as the Live Aid concert in 1985.

Major civil discontent and violence occurred, including the Angolan Civil War, the Ethiopian Civil War, the Moro conflict, the Ugandan Bush War, the insurgency in Laos, the Iran–Iraq War, the Soviet–Afghan War, the 1982 Lebanon War, the Second Sudanese Civil War, the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency, and the First Nagorno-Karabakh War. Islamism became a powerful political force in the 1980s and many jihadist organizations, including Al Qaeda, were set up.

By 1986, nationalism was making a comeback in the Eastern Bloc, and the desire for democracy in socialist states, combined with economic recession, resulted in Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika, which reduced Communist Party power, legalized dissent and sanctioned limited forms of capitalism such as joint ventures with companies from capitalist countries. After tension for most of the decade, by 1988 relations between the communist and capitalist blocs had improved significantly and the Soviet Union was increasingly unwilling to defend its governments in satellite states.

1989 brought the overthrow and attempted overthrow of a number of governments led by communist parties, such as in Hungary, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in China, the Czechoslovak “Velvet Revolution”, Erich Honecker’s East German regime, Poland’s Soviet-backed government, and the violent overthrow of the Nicolae Ceaușescu regime in Romania. Destruction of the 155-km Berlin Wall, at the end of the decade, signaled a seismic geopolitical shift. The Cold War ended in the early 1990s with the successful Reunification of Germany and the USSR’s demise after the August Coup of 1991.

The 1980s saw great advances in genetic and digital technology. After years of animal experimentation since 1985, the first genetic modification of 10 adult human beings took place in May 1989, a gene tagging experiment which led to the first true gene therapy implementation in September 1990. The first “designer babies”, a pair of female twins, were created in a laboratory in late 1989 and born in July 1990 after being sex-selected via the controversial assisted reproductive technology procedure preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Gestational surrogacy was first performed in 1985 with the first birth in 1986, making it possible for a woman to become a biological mother without experiencing pregnancy for the first time in history.

The 1980s was also an era of tremendous population growth around the world, surpassing the 1970s and 1990s, and arguably being the largest in human history. Population growth was particularly rapid in a number of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian countries during this decade, with rates of natural increase close to or exceeding 4% annually.

The 1980s saw the advent of the ongoing practice of sex-selective abortion in China and India as ultrasound technology permitted parents to selectively abort baby girls.

The global internet took shape in academia by the second half of the 1980s, as well as many other computer networks of both academic and commercial use such as USENET, Fidonet, and the Bulletin Board System. By 1989 the Internet and the networks linked to it were a global system with extensive transoceanic satellite links and nodes in most developed countries. Based on earlier work, from 1980 onwards Tim Berners Lee formalized the concept of the World Wide Web by 1989. Television viewing became commonplace in the Third World, with the number of TV sets in China and India increasing by 15 and 10 times respectively.

The Atari Video Computer System console became widespread in the first part of the decade, often simply called “Atari”. 1980’s Atari VCS port of Space Invaders was the first killer app. The video game crash of 1983 ended the system’s popularity and decimated the industry until the Nintendo Entertainment System re-established the console market in North America. The hand-held Game Boy launched in 1989. Super Mario Bros. and Tetris were the decade’s best selling games. Pac-Man was the highest grossing arcade game. Home computers became commonplace. The 1981 IBM PC led to a large market for IBM PC compatibles. The 1984 release of the Macintosh popularized the WIMP style of interaction.

During the 1980s, the world population grew from 4.4 to 5.3 billion people. There were approximately 1.33 billion births and 480 million deaths.

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