1995: The year the future began
The book examines a hinge moment in recent American history and devotes five chapters to separate watershed developments of 1995. The book also describes how those decisive moments still reverberate, 20 years on.
Chapter One explores how 1995 was “the year of the Internet,” the year when the World Wide Web entered mainstream consciousness. Not everyone was online in 1995; but almost everyone at least had heard about the Internet. Significantly, it also was the year when now-familiar mainstays of the digital world — Amazon.com, eBay, Craigslist, and Match.com, among them — established their presence online. As an exuberant newspaper columnist wrote at the close of 1995, it was “the year the Web started changing lives.”
Chapter Two examines a deepening national preoccupation with terrorism which was fueled by the massive bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, an attack that killed 168 people, including 19 children. It was, and remains, the deadliest act of domestic terror in U.S. history. Within weeks of the Oklahoma City bombing, a portion of Pennsylvania Avenue—the so-called “Main Street” of America—was closed to vehicular traffic near the White House, signaling the rise of security-related restrictions intended to thwart the terrorist threat. Such reactions and restrictions, I note in 1995, have since become more common and more intrusive.
Chapter Three takes up the sensational “Trial of the Century,” when O.J. Simpson answered charges that he had slashed to death his former wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. The Simpson trial, I write, “stretched across much of the year, not unlike an indelible stain.” Simpson, a former star football player, was acquitted and set free, but never won redemption of his public persona. Ironically, I note, the trial’s most tedious stretches produced its “most lasting contribution: the Simpson case introduced into popular consciousness the decisive potential of forensic DNA evidence in criminal investigations and legal proceedings.”
Chapter Four revisits the U.S.-brokered peace talks that brought an end to the vicious war in Bosnia, the deadliest and most appalling conflict in Europe since the time of the Nazis. Crafting a fragile peace in the Balkans — negotiators met for three weeks at the Wright-Patterson Air Force base near Dayton, Ohio — gave rise to a sense of American hubris in foreign affairs, hubris that was tragically misapplied not many years later, following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Chapter Five recalls that 1995 brought the first of several furtive sexual encounters between President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, a nominal White House intern 27 years his junior. Their intermittent dalliance began in mid-November 1995, during a partial shutdown of the federal government, and erupted in January 1998 in a lurid sex scandal that rocked the U.S. government and led to the spectacle of Clinton’s impeachment, trial, and acquittal on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Taken together, these major turns define a watershed year at the cusp of the millennium, a year of surpassing exceptionality.
The host and interviewer of the Newseum event will be John Maynard, a former reporter for the Washington Post.
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