- Blog Post
- Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.
Anniversaries recall our triumphs, honor our losses, and mark our tragedies. Two thousand eighteen witnessed many significant anniversaries: the centennial of the end World War I, the fiftieth anniversary of the Tet Offensive, and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the creation of European Single Market, to name a few. Two thousand nineteen will also see anniversaries of many significant events in world history. Here are ten to note:
Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of NAFTA Entering Into Force, January 1, 1994. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a trade deal politicians love to hate. Its origins lie in a free-trade agreement the Reagan administration signed with Canada in 1988. Two years later, President George H.W. Bush began trade talks with Mexico, which Canada later joined. In 1992, the three countries struck a deal. It immediately became a flash point in the U.S. presidential election. Third-party candidate Ross Perot insisted Americans would hear a “giant sucking sound” as jobs moved to low-wage Mexico. Bill Clinton split the difference between Bush and Perot, saying he favored lowering trade barriers but wanted tougher environmental and labor protections. Clinton negotiated those changes as president, and in November 1993 Congress gave its approval. Since NAFTA went into effect on January 1, 1994, its impact on jobs has been hotly debated. Economists say it hasn’t caused either large job losses or gains. That consensus, however, hasn’t stopped politicians as different as Barack Obama and Donald Trump from attacking NAFTA. In September, the White House announced it had renegotiated NAFTA, renaming it the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The changes were more than cosmetic but far short of transformational. A big question in 2019 is whether Congress will approve USMCA or put it in limbo.
Centennial of the Paris Peace Conference, the Signing of the Treaty of Versailles, and the U.S. Senate’s Rejection of the Treaty of Versailles, January 18-November 19, 1919. Representatives from thirty countries convened in Paris on January 18, 1919 to draft the peace settlement for the Great War. The “Big Four” of Britain, France, Italy, and the United States dominated the deliberations. British, French, and Italian leaders demanded harsh reparations from Germany. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson pushed for a peace built on the principles he had set forth a year earlier in his “Fourteen Points” speech, and especially his vision of a league of nations to guarantee the peace for large and small powers alike. When the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, Britain, France, and Italy got their punitive peace and Wilson his League of Nations. When he returned home in July 1919, however, he discovered that many Americans opposed tying their fate to events overseas. Despite barnstorming the country to whip up support for his beloved League—and nearly killing himself in the process—he failed to persuade the audience that mattered the most, the U.S. Senate. On November 19, it rejected the Treaty of Versailles. Twenty years later Europe was at war once again, and historians were left to debate whether the decisions taken in Paris and on Capitol Hill in 1919 made World War II inevitable.
Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, April 7 – July 18, 1994. On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana crashed after being hit by a surface-to-air missile as it approached Kigali International Airport, sparking the Rwandan genocide. Habyarimana had been in Tanzania discussing the Arusha Accords, a deal to end Rwanda’s three-year civil war, which had largely pitted Hutu, the country’s largest ethnic group, against Tutsi. Who shot down Habyarima’s plane remains disputed. What isn’t disputed is that within hours of the crash, Hutu militias began slaughtering Tutsis as well as moderate Hutus. Outside powers declined to intervene to stop the bloodshed. The genocide ended only after Tutsi-dominated rebel forces captured Kigali on July 4. Nearly 800,000 Rwandans died in the intervening three months. In 1998, President Bill Clinton spoke in Rwanda, saying “We in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done.” The Rwandan genocide fueled support for the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the idea that countries should intervene to prevent genocide and ethnic cleansing. Subsequent atrocities in Darfur, Sudan, and Syria have shown the difficulty in turning that lofty principle into successful practice.
Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Nelson Mandela Becoming President of South Africa, May 10, 1994. “The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!” Nelson Mandela spoke those words when he was sworn in as president of South Africa on May 10, 1994. He wasn’t praising his own accomplishments, though he could be forgiven if he had. He had spent twenty-seven years in prison, often forced to perform back-breaking labor, yet had become an international symbol of resistance to oppression and South Africa’s first black president. Mandela was instead celebrating what South Africans as a people had accomplished in overturning apartheid and working to establish a “united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.” Mandela was good to his word in pursuing that vision. He established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help South Africans address the wounds of apartheid, and he even named F.W. de Klerk, the country’s last apartheid-era president, one of his deputy presidents. Perhaps most notably, Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, chose to serve only one term as president before passing the torch on to a new generation. When Mandela died in 2013, President Barack Obama eulogized him by saying “A free South Africa at peace with itself—that's an example to the world. And that's Madiba's legacy to the nation he loved.”
Centennial of Congress Approving the Nineteenth Amendment, June 4, 1919. The delegates to the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention drafted a “Declaration of Sentiments” that advanced what was then a radical principle: “all men and women are created equal.” More than seven decades passed before that vision became the law of the land. After the Civil War, several (mostly western) states gave women the right to vote. But even with the pioneering efforts of activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony the federal government had not followed suit by the time Woodrow Wilson became president. The women’s suffrage movement took two main approaches to enlisting him in their cause. One, championed by Alice Paul, focused on protests outside the White House; the other championed by Carrie Chapman Catt, used petitions to demonstrate public support. Wilson thought Paul’s protests were unseemly, but he eventually decided to endorse women’s suffrage. His support helped change the tide. After several failed attempts, the House voted for woman’s suffrage on May 21, 1919 and the Senate followed suit on June 4, 1919. The nineteenth amendment became effective on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify it. The Congress that will be sworn in on January 3, 2019 will have 126 women.
Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of D-Day, the Liberation of Paris, and the Battle of the Bulge, June 6 to December 1944 . The D-Day invasion, officially named Operation Overlord, involved 6,939 ships, 11,590 planes, and roughly one hundred fifty thousand allied troops. Their task was difficult: cross the English Channel undetected, penetrate German defenses along the French coast, and establish a beachhead for the eventual march east. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander in Europe, told the troops: “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.” Allied forces landed at five beaches in Normandy—Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword, and Utah. Despite suffering more than ten thousand casualties, they succeeded and began pushing forward into France. On August 25, 1944, Paris was liberated. The advance faltered on December 16, 1944, however, when Germany launched a massive counteroffensive in the Ardennes Forest that caught allied troops unprepared. The initial German successes were so great that the German commander called on U.S. forces encircled at Bastogne, Belgium to surrender. Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe famously replied “NUTS!” The Battle of the Bulge lasted three weeks and cost the allies more than one hundred thousand casualties. Nonetheless, the allies emerged victorious, sealing Germany’s defeat.
Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Bretton Woods Conference, July 1-22, 1944. As it became clear in early 1944 that the allies would eventually defeat Germany, FDR and his advisors began contemplating what the postwar order should look like. That is why financial experts from forty-four countries gathered in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in July 1944 for the International Monetary and Financial Conference. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau told the attendees they should “do away with the economic evils—the competitive devaluation and destructive impediments to trade—which preceded the present war.” The U.S. believed that preventing cutthroat economic competition would increase prosperity and make armed conflict less likely. A major debate at Bretton Woods pitted famed British economist John Maynard Keynes against Harry Dexter White, a senior U.S. Treasury official. The two battled over whether Britain’s pound sterling or the U.S. dollar would underpin the new global financial order. White and the dollar won. The Bretton Woods conference also gave birth to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but its proposal to create an International Trade Organization was abandoned. Many of the specific rules that Bretton Woods established have been jettisoned or revised over the past seventy-five years, but it remains the foundation for today’s international economic system.
Fiftieth Anniversary of the Moon Landing, July 20, 1969. "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Astronaut Neil Armstrong spoke those words as roughly six hundred million people watched on television when he became the first person to set foot on the moon. Armstrong’s step marked the culmination of a remarkable political and scientific effort. On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy asked Congress to commit to putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. At the time, the United States had launched just one manned space flight, a suborbital mission with Alan Shepard that lasted only 15 minutes. Seven-and-a-half years later, Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to circle the moon. When Apollo-11 launched from Cape Canaveral on July 16, 1969 with Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins onboard, it had one objective: “Perform a manned lunar landing and return.” Armstrong and Aldrin spent twenty-one hours and thirty minutes on the moon. Collins, meanwhile, remained onboard Apollo 11, becoming the first person to orbit the far side of the moon alone, cut off from all human contact. The moon landing effectively ended the “Space Race,” which began twelve years earlier when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik-1.
The Quadricentennial of the Arrival of the First Slaves in the American Colonies, August 1619. In the late summer of 1619, just a dozen years after the establishment of the Jamestown Colony, an English ship named the White Lion arrived in what is now Hampton, Virginia. On board were some twenty slaves the White Lion had stolen from a Portuguese slave ship headed to Mexico. The slaves were quickly sold, even though the Virginia colony had no laws permitting slavery. The practice spread to other English colonies. In 1641, Massachusetts became the first colony to formally legalize slavery. By 1750, it was legal in all thirteen colonies, reflecting the increasing demand for slaves, which helped fuel the vast, powerful, and horrific transatlantic slave trade that involved North, South, and Central America. By the time the U.S. Civil War ended slavery in the United States, an estimated 388,000 of the 12.5 million Africans transported to the Western Hemisphere between 1525 and 1866 had arrived in what became the United States. Americans continue to grapple with the painful legacy of slavery, a practice which regrettably isn’t the relic of some distant past. Mauritania became the last country to outlaw slavery—in 1981. Yet despite the formal and universal condemnation of slavery, an estimated 45.8 million people around the world are enslaved today.
Quincentennial of the Start of the First Circumnavigation of the Globe, September 20, 1519. Portuguese explorer Fernão de Magalhães, known to English-speakers as Ferdinand Magellan, set sail from Spain on September 20, 1519 with five ships. With the backing of the Spanish king, he hoped to find a way to sail west to the Spice Islands, in what is modern-day Indonesia. That would enable Spain to circumvent the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, which gave Portugal the right to sail eastward around Africa, the only known route to the Spice Islands. Fourteen months passed before Magellan reached the strait at the southern tip of South America that now bears his name. When he and his men emerged from it a month later, they became the first Europeans to see what they dubbed Mar Pacifico, the Pacific Ocean. Magellan, however, never made it to the Spice Islands. He was killed by a poisoned arrow while helping one tribe in the Philippines attack another. Just two ships made it to the Spice Islands, and only one of them—the Victoria—was seaworthy enough to resume the journey. Rather than return the way they came, the surviving crew continued sailing west. In September 1521, the Victoria reached Spain, completing its circumnavigation of the globe. Only eighteen of the original 270 crew members survived the three-year voyage.
Other historical anniversaries to note in 2019. January 20 is the tenth anniversary of Barack Obama becoming the first African-American president of the United States. February 11 marks forty years since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power in Iran. March 1 is the centennial of the start of the March First Movement, the first Korean independence movement against Japanese colonial rule. April 15 is the fiftieth anniversary of North Korea shooting down an American reconnaissance plane over the Sea of Japan. May 10 is the sesquicentennial of the completion of the transcontinental railroad. June 28 is the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. July 20 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Operation Valkyrie, the failed plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. August 7 is the bicentennial of the Battle of Boyacá, which led to Colombia’s independence. September 1 is the fiftieth anniversary of the coup that brought Muammar Gaddafi to power in Libya. October 15 marks fifty years since the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, a nationwide coordinated series of protests and teach-ins. November 12 is the fiftieth anniversary of Seymour Hersh breaking the My Lai story. December 1 is the tenth anniversary of Lisbon Treaty entering into force.
On the lighter side. January 12 marks fifty years since the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts to win Super Bowl III, as well as fifty years since the release of Led Zeppelin’s debut album. January 25 is the bicentennial of Thomas Jefferson founding the University of Virginia. February 26 is the centennial of Congress establishing Grand Canyon National Park. March 31 is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five. April 22 is the fiftieth anniversary of Robin Knox-Johnston becoming the first person to sail around the world solo without stopping. May 24 is the one hundred seventy-fifth anniversary of the birth of the telegraph. June 24 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of the original version of “The Lion King.” July 14 marks fifty years since the United States officially withdrew the $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 bills from circulation. August 15 is the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock. September 26 marks fifty years since the Beatles released Abbey Road. October 16 is the fiftieth anniversary of the “Miracle” New York Mets winning the World Series by defeating the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in just five games. November 10 is the fiftieth anniversary of the premier of “Sesame Street.” November 22 is the fiftieth anniversary of the University of Michigan defeating defending national champion Ohio State in one of the greatest upsets in college football history. December 21 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Vince Lombardi coaching his last football game.
Corey Cooper, Angela Peterson, Patrice Narasimhan, and Sofia Ruiz assisted in the preparation of this post.
Other posts in this series: