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Shinn column: Echoes from a past that isn’t so distant

Headline: Echoes from a past that isn’t so distant
Chapel Hill ó Whatever happened to the issues of the 1980s?
Dr. Jim Leutze posed this question to a group of alumni from 1983 and 1988 recently at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Leutze was professor of history at UNC from 1969 to 1987, and is chancellor emeritus of UNC-Wilmington.
In looking at events in history, Leutze said, you have to discern what’s important and what’s not important.
Certain issues of the day, he said, have “long legs” that continue even now.
The first slide Leutze showed was ó you guessed it ó from the Iran-Iraq War. In one photo, Donald Rumsfeld was shown shaking hands with Saddam Hussein.
The U.S., he said, “played both sides against the middle” in that conflict.
Other interesting events Leutze noted from 1983:
– President Ronald Reagan declared 1983 “The Year of the Bible.”
– The final episode of “M*A*S*H*” ran.
– Star Wars Strategic Defense Initiative was launched.
– Harold Washington became the first black mayor of Chicago.
– The U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed.
– “Thriller” was the year’s No. 1 album. This tidbit drew hearty laughter from the crowd.
– Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister of Great Britain.
– Sally Ride became the first female in space.
– Tom Brokaw became news anchor of NBC.
– Hooters opened.
– George H.W. Bush defeated Bob Dole in the Republican primaries. Leutze called Dole “the angriest man ever to run for president.”
– Lloyd Bentsen delivered his famous John Kennedy quote to Dan Quayle.
“He brought the house down,” Leutze remembered, “and he brought Quayle down.”
In 1988, the country was very nearly all red in that election, with George H.W. Bush winning all but nine states against Michael Dukakis.
The year 1988 was also when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, and the year that NAFTA began.
“The terrorists were with us,” Leutze said of the decade. “The Russians were on our minds. There was violence in the Middle East.”
Twenty-five years later, he said, those issues remain the same.
In politics, Leutze noted that Jim Hunt and Jim Martin served as governor, while Jesse Helms was a force of nature in the senate.
Leutze said he was never concerned about the Russians, but instead is worried about what will happen when other countries develop nuclear weapons.
“I don’t have the confidence in them as I had in the Russians,” he said.
Leutze also noted that Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were part of the Nixon White House, and have been a part of the administration of George W. Bush.
He also called the Bush presidency a “unitary presidency,” in which the commander in chief is “above the law.”
This trend, he said, will not stop when a new president takes office.
Leutze ó an admitted worrier ó said he also continues to be concerned about the Middle East.
He thinks that George W. Bush made a “terrible mistake” in invading Iraq.
“It was not thought through,” he said. “It was a power plan. He was in competition with his father. There was a woeful lack of thinking through the nuts and bolts of what could be accomplished. It was not about terrorists.
“If you take a nation to war, you need to think very seriously about it.”
He said he’d like to see the United States work more with its allies to address common problems.
“I don’t think the 21st century will be the American century,” he said. “I think we’ve seen it.”
– – –
Contact Susan Shinn at sshinn@salisbury post.com. or 704-797-4289.

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