My life has pretty much been able to be compartmentalized into and defined by each of the decades in which I have lived. The 1960’s were my childhood at home on American Street in South Philly being raised by my parents.
The 1970’s were defined by my own adolescence and high school days, as well as my mom’s illness and my parents divorce.
The 1990’s were my early policing days, and highlighted by meeting and getting married to my wife. This past decade by our life in Somerton, my becoming a grandparent, becoming a police supervisor, and attending and graduating college.
The decade of the 1980’s were my 20’s, highlighted by my becoming a young parent, my first marriage, my days in the banking industry, and my joining a softball team that would lead me to the best friends of my adult life.
The decade began with a life-changing event, the birth of my first daughter on February 2nd, 1980 and ended with another when I took the written exam to become a Philadelphia police officer in December of 1989.
Those who know me or have followed this website over the years know that those 1980’s were not just another world for me as far as my family life and my career, but they also found me a completely different person politically and culturally than I am now.
As I’ve stated here before, I spent the 80’s and early 90’s as a political liberal Democrat who voted for Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and yes, even Michael Dukakis during the decade’s various presidential races.
The world was pretty much dominated during that decade by the presidency of Ronald Reagan, a period of renewed optimism and patriotism and pride that I would not fully recognize and celebrate as positive myself until the next decade.
Reagan, certainly the greatest of the 20th century President’s, led America to victory in the Cold War after decades of living under the threat of nuclear war. He also teamed with world leaders such as Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa of Poland to bring about the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall.
Ronald Reagan was just a couple of weeks shy of his 70th birthday when he was sworn in as the 40th President of the United States on January 20th, 1981. His policies became known collectively as the ‘Reagan Revolution’ highlighted by his vision of political and social conservatism and a belief in capitalism and free markets taking hold not only in the United States, but in Europe and other areas of the world as well.
Just two months into his first term, Reagan was shot and critically wounded outside of a Washington, D.C. hotel where he had just given a speech. The assassins bullet narrowly missed his heart, but did strike his lung causing it to collapse. Breathing problems as a result of the lung collapse combined with rapid blood loss to put Reagan’s life in serious jeopardy, but he valiantly recovered to become the first U.S. President to survive being shot in an assassination attempt.
Reagan’s economic policies known as ‘Reagonomics’ limited government involvement in business and society drastically and led to a major economic recovery during the decade. His political attacks on the Soviet Union were dramatic. He increased America’s own military budgets, pushed for creation of a ‘Star Wars’-like missile shield, called the Soviets an ‘Evil Empire’, and supported efforts to overthrow socialist dictators in South America.
In 1984, Reagan was re-elected in a landslide under the banner that said his first term had led to a ‘Morning in America’ with the image of the sun rising on America specifically and freedom in general. By the time he left office in January of 1989, Ronald Reagan still had a 64% approval rating. His policies and vision have left a lasting impression on a new generation of Americans fighting to maintain America’s place in the world as a free, capitalist, God-fearing nation.
Reagan was far from the only major political and social figure of the decade to have a lasting influence. In October of 1978, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Poland was elected to the papacy and became known as Pope John Paul II. The Pope, the first non-Italian to hold the post in more than 450 years, became the most well-traveled and possibly the most beloved pontiff of all-time.
Like Reagan, Pope John Paul II survived an assassination attempt that left him in critical condition. On May 13th, 1981, just a month after Reagan had left the hospital, the Pope was entering Saint Peter’s Square outside the Vatican, an Islamic gunman pumped numerous shots into his abdomen. The Pope lost 3/4 of his blood, but was saved by surgeons aided by divine intervention. Two years later the Pope visited his would-be assassin in prison and forgave him.
During his lifetime, John Paul II traveled to more than 129 countries, including a visit to my hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania here in the United States in October of 1979. The Pope’s visit to his homeland of Poland that summer sparked the 1980 ‘Solidarity’ labor union and social movement led by Lech Walesa. This movement and the support for it by both Ronald Reagan and John Paul II would be pivotal in bringing down the Soviet Union.
Lech Walesa was a shipyard worker in Poland and in his 20’s during the 1970’s had become an outspoken labor leader in a Communist country that did not recognize and in fact forcibly suppressed entities such as trade unions. Walesa became the leader of striking workers at the Gdansk shipyards in 1980, a labor movement that eventually led to similar work stoppages all across Poland.
In the aftermath of these labor events, trade unions were formally recognized for the first time ever by a Communist state, but Walesa was arrested for his role and served almost a year in jail. In 1983 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership of the movement which he continued throughout the decade. Ultimately, Lech Walesa was elected as the President of a Poland that freed itself from the Soviet and Communist sphere of influence thanks largely to his work with Solidarity.
Margaret Thatcher became the Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1979, and would prove to be a pivotal ally and friend to the United States in general and Ronald Reagan in particular during the 1980’s. The woman known as ‘Maggie’ also survived an assassination attempt, this one when the IRA exploded a bomb at the Brighton hotel where she was staying with the British cabinet in October of 1984. She would go on to provide vital support to the U.S. in Reagan’s battles to bring down the Soviet Union.
Reagan, Thatcher, Walesa, and Pope John Paul II were the world leaders who provided the most influence during the decade. The defeat of the Soviets in the Cold War highlighted by the fall of the Berlin Wall was certainly the most important event of the decade. But the 1980’s will forever be remembered for much more than its incredible political developments.
Some of the key events that happened during the decade include the murder of John Lennon and the volcanic eruption at Mount St. Helen’s in 1980, the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, and the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut in 1983 that signalled the beginnings of the Islamofascist War against America.
Also during the decade the Live Aid concerts were held in 1985, the space shuttle Challenger exploded and the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Russia occurred in 1986, 1987’s ‘Black Monday’ saw near panic on Wall Street with a collapse of the stock market, and in 1989 the Exxon Valdez spilled millions of gallons of oil on to the Alaska shoreline while Chinese students were murdered in demonstrations at Tiananmen Square.
The 1980’s brought us the explosion of cable television along with entities such as MTV, ESPN, and CNN. The ‘Rubik’s Cube’, ‘Pac Man’, and ‘Cabbage Patch Kids’ helped keep Americans entertained in the early years of the decade. AIDS was first diagnosed and became both a plague to the gay community and a warning scare for adulterers everywhere. IBM introduced the ‘PC’ or personal computer to the market, and the beginning asphalt was being laid on the information superhighway that would eventually be known to us all as the internet.
In the 1980’s we discovered the wreck of the ship Titanic, watched as Sally Ride became the first woman in space and Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, and saw a new technology known as ‘DNA’ introduced in the courtroom. Our hearts were touched when ‘E.T.’ went home, and we marveled as a young Michael Jackson moonwalked across the stage.
During the 1980’s, I worked at First Pennsylvania Bank for the first seven years and then at Fidelity Bank for the last three. I lived in South Philly with my first wife, and saw the birth of and began to raise two beautiful, wonderful daughters. I marched in the Mummer’s Parade at the beginning of the decade with the Clevemore Fancy Brigade, and then towards the end with the Downtowners Fancy Brigade. And I played softball and won championships in both 1985 and 1989 with the Brewers softball team.
The 1980’s were an unforgettable decade of challenge and struggle for me and my family personally and for the world in general. They were also a time of incredible growth, of learning valuable life lessons, of experiencing intense emotions and events. All during the rest of this year, I will be celebrating the decade of the 1980’s with it’s music, movies, television, and news stories both here at my website and at my Facebook page.