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The 1980's

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    © 2007 Jupiterimages Corporation

    The 1980s was a transition period for the United States. During this time, many large-scale events that shaped America and the World took place.

    Some major milestones of the 1980s:

    • Hostages Released
    • End of Cold War
    • Space Disaster
    • AIDS


    Hostages Released

    In the 1980 presidential election, President Jimmy Carter lost by a landslide. During his presidency, Carter had been bound and determined to free the American hostages in Iran. He ordered a rescue mission which failed terribly and eight Marines died. Many Americans felt President Carter was weak and unable to make decisions. He lost the 1980 election to the Republican candidate, Ronald Reagan. The Iranians made a strong point when they formally released the American hostages only 20 minutes after President Reagan's inaugural address. Even though Carter had worked hard to have these hostages released, it was Reagan who got credit for their actual release.

    End of the Cold War

    The Cold War was a time period that lasted from the end of World War II until 1989. This conflict came about because of the differences between Communism and Democracy. The primary players were the United States and the Soviet Union. It was in 1987 that President Ronald Reagan gave a now famous speech in West Berlin, Germany, in which he presented a challenge:

    "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

    The Soviets agreed the following year (1988) to no longer interfere with the eastern European affairs and the wall officially came down in 1989, though many historians believe the timing of Reagan's speech was coincidental. In December of 1989, President George Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev officially declared that the cold war was over. The following year the Communist party of the Soviet Union collapsed.

    Space Disaster

    The Cold War led the "space race." In January of 1986, a tragic space disaster occurred when the space shuttle Challenger took off. All seven people on board were killed.

    Listen to President Reagan's speech about the Challenger disaster:

    Address on the Space Shuttle Challenger  (January 28, 1986) from
    : Click on Audio MP3 of address below the picture or read the text version below the picture

    While listening to this moving speech, please focus on the following:

    • The speaker's tone, mood, and pattern of speech
    • Effectiveness
    • The historical event


    AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The first cases of this disease were reported in 1981. At that time, it was a mysterious disease. People were scared and confused about this disease and often let their preconceived notions get the better of them. Many people suffering with AIDS became targets of discrimination. One such person was a young man named Ryan White. Ryan became infected after a blood transfusion when he was 13. He became a target at school and was not allowed to attend any longer. He lost friends. People even insulted his mother, calling her "unfit." After months and months of courtroom battling, Ryan was allowed to go back to school. Ryan White died in 1990. It was the same year he would have graduated from high school. Because of Ryan White, awareness of the disease was increased, as were the rights for people suffering with it.

    © 2007 Jupiterimages Corporation

    Here are some additional interesting events that occurred in the 1980s:

    · Mount St. Helens, a volcano, in Washington state erupted in 1980.

    · In 1981, Prince Charles of England married Diana. This was a major television event around the world.

    · In 1981, MTV music television station began broadcasting.

    · In 1981, Sandra Day O'Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice.

    · In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker grounded and caused a huge oil spill in Alaska. This was a major environmental disaster.


    When finished with these activities, go on to the next page to take the 1980s assessment.