1995: The year the future began
Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason.com and Reason TV, recently spoke with me about my latest book, 1995: The Year the Future Began.
The video and the transcript of the interview were posted yesterday at Reason.com, digital platform of the eponymous magazine. Highlights follow in this, the first of a two-part series about the interview, which roughly followed sequence of chapters in 1995.
At one point, Gillespie said this about Marc Andreessen, a founder of Netscape Communications, the California startup that embodied the swagger and flamboyance of the early Web of 1995:
“If Jim Morrison was the ultimate, first real rock star, Andreessen was the first real web star.”
An excellent observation.
“I wish I had said that [in] the book,” I replied. “It happens to be accurate. He really was.”
In 1995, Andreessen was in his early 20s, not long out of college. He and his Netscape partners, I noted, “recruited some of his buddies from the University of Illinois, where he had developed a [Web] browser before coming to California to start up Netscape, and these guys made a new browser that was wildly popular.”
The browser was Netscape Navigator. It was the first widely poplar Web browser and in 1995 it offered a graphical pathway to the digital world for untold millions of people.
Netscape’s stunningly successful IPO — the initial public offering of its shares — in August 1995 turned public attention to the Web as never before. Even so, Netscape’s lifespan was brief, meteoric: It lost what was called the “browser war” to the much larger Microsoft Corporation and by 1999 Netscape had been acquired and absorbed by AOL.com.
My conversation with Gillespie turned to the O.J. Simpson murder trial, which stretched across 1995 much like an indelible stain. Simpson, a former star professional football player, was accused of killing his former wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald L. Goldman, a restaurant waiter.
Simpson was found not guilty of the slayings in a case so sensational that it often was called the “Trial of the Century.”
The trial’s lasting effects, I said in the interview, were in introducing “to a mainstream audience the potential value of forensic DNA evidence.”
The case against Simpson, I pointed out, faced several impediments: Authorities had no murder weapon, no confession, no witnesses to the killings.
But they “did have what they called a mountain of blood evidence, the DNA evidence, that clearly pointed to O.J. Simpson’s guilt,” I said. “The defense’s strategy was not to challenge the validity of the DNA evidence or science behind it but … to challenge the way it was handled, processed, analyzed, and so forth in the laboratory, as well as … collected at the [murder] scene. And they were able to demonstrate just how poorly it was done at all those levels — impugning this evidence that made, in my view, acquittal inevitable.”
Simpson’s acquittal, I added, “had the effect of stimulating efforts and attempts and methodologies to collect [DNA] evidence in a proper way so that it could be properly analyzed and properly presented in court. So it cleaned up really the efforts to collect and process this evidence.”
While the Simpson trial may not really have been the “Trial of the Century,” it does endure as a “standard against which other high-profile, prominent murder trials are assessed and inevitably found wanting,” I said, adding:
“If you think [over] the past 20 years, there have been many murder trials that have been likened to the O.J. trial, but [they] really weren’t in terms of the duration, in terms of the sustained media interest, and in terms of the controversies, too. None of them really have captured those elements that so defined the O.J. trial.”
The interview touched on the U.S.-brokered Dayton Peace Accords of November 1995, which ended the conflict in Bosnia, the deadliest war in Europe since the end of World War II.
The Americans brought the heads of state of the three Balkan countries—Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia—to the Wright-Patterson Air Force base near Dayton, Ohio, “and kept them there in essentially radio silence until they thrashed out an agreement to this long war in Bosnia,” I said. “And that [agreement] was the first clear, major foreign policy success of the Clinton administration, and it really did give the administration a lift.”
President Bill Clinton, I noted, agreed to send 20,000 U.S. troops as part of a larger NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia, in what was “a very politically risky decision. It turned out well, because no American casualties were counted” during the years U.S. forces were deployed in Bosnia.
Following the Dayton accords, U.S. foreign policy turned markedly more muscular, more assertive — and was characterized, I pointed out, by “a willingness to use force to achieve foreign policy ends. And [you] saw this in Iraq in 1998, when Clinton ordered the bombing of Iraq to supposedly degrade Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction arsenal. You also saw it in the Kosovo war of 1999. You certainly saw it in the aftermath of 9/11, with the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and then in Iraq starting in 2003.”
This “hubris bubble” was inflated by military and diplomatic success abroad and kept expanding until it burst in the insurgency that followed the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Next: The interview turns to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and the zeitgeist of the 1990s: The decade was no “holiday from history.”
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