1995: The year the future began
December 31, 1995, was a Sunday, and the publication date of the last original strip of the Calvin and Hobbes newspaper comic. The popular and still-missed strip featured the hijinks of a hyper-imaginative 6-year-old named Calvin, whose stuffed tiger came vigorously to life exclusively in the boy’s company.
Calvin and Hobbes was drawn by the publicity-shy Bill Watterson who gave up the strip after a 10-year run because, he said in November 1995, “My interests have shifted, and I believe I’ve done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels.”
In a sense, the year closed the way it began, as I point out in my latest book, 1995: The Year The Future Began: It ended on a Sunday, with the final appearance of a popular newspaper comic. On January 1, 1995, The Far Side, a delightfully bizarre comic drawn for 15 years by Gary Larson, had made its farewell.
The leave-taking of Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side represented modest but certainly not insignificant testimony to the many ways in which 1995 was such a memorable year. Twenty years on, tributes to the two departed strips continue to appear, including an outstanding commentary about Calvin and Hobbes that appeared several months ago in the Wall Street Journal.
At the White House, the closing day of 1995 brought the third encounter in the intermittent sexual dalliance between President Bill Clinton and a 22-year-old former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.
They had begun their affair in mid-November 1995, when the federal government was partly closed over a spending dispute between Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress.
The Clinton-Lewinsky year-end encounter took place during the second partial government shutdown of 1995. It was their first time together in six weeks, and Lewinsky reminded the president of her name. During the interim, Clinton had called her “kiddo” when they passed in the hallways at the White House.
According to Lewinsky’s later testimony, she and the president moved to a study near the Oval Office. They kissed. The president, she said, “lifted my sweater and exposed my breasts and was fondling them with his hands and with his mouth.” She performed oral sex on him. As in their previous encounters, the president stopped her before he climaxed because, according to Lewinsky’s testimony, “he didn’t know me well enough or he didn’t trust me.”
Afterward, Lewinsky said, Clinton renewed an invitation extended the month before that she visit him on weekends.
Later in the day, Clinton, his wife, and their daughter, then 15, left the White House for Hilton Head, South Carolina, the site of Renaissance Weekend, their traditional year-end retreat.
The New York Times noted that the Clintons marked the arrival of the new year with more than 1,000 friends and others in a crowded banquet hall. On New Year’s Day 1996, the Times later reported, the president attended a “seminar on personal growth and family values.”
Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky — which continues to reverberate — remained a secret until January 1998, when news broke that the president was being investigated for perjury and obstruction of justice, after denying under oath in a separate civil lawsuit that he had had sexual relations with Lewinsky. Clinton was impeached in December 1998 on single counts of perjury and obstruction, but was acquitted at a Senate trial in February 1999.
On December 31, 1995, the gateway was opened for U.S. peacekeeping forces deploying to Bosnia, the Balkan state ravaged by war since 1992. A U.S.-brokered peace agreement had been reached in November 1995 in talks near Dayton, Ohio. The agreement called for 60,000 NATO forces to keep the peace.
Included in that force were 20,000 U.S. troops. They began entering northeastern Bosnia in numbers on the afternoon of December 31, across a pontoon bridge, 2,100 feet long, that had been put up across the rain-swollen Sava River separating Bosnia and Croatia.
The crossing into Bosnia of a convoy of U.S. tanks marked what the New York Times called “the start to the American role in the mission” in Bosnia.
“The pontoon bridge … is the narrow, swaying passageway that will carry most of the 20,000 troops in the American contingent into the country,” the Times reported. “That parade began today [December 31] in a display of military might as about 150 tanks, artillery pieces, Humvees and trucks carrying boxes of food and latrines rumbled south across melting snow” into the sector of Bosnia to be overseen by the Americans.
The U.S. forces were to leave Bosnia after a year. They stayed for nine, during which time U.S. foreign policy took on an interventionist cast, marked by muscularity and expanding hubris.
What has been called a “hubris bubble” expanded and expanded before finally bursting, I note in 1995, “in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. After taking Baghdad and toppling Saddam’s Baathist regime, the United States was thoroughly unprepared for the grinding insurgency that followed.
“The puncturing of the ‘hubris bubble’ … led to a decided retrenchment. As if chastened, the United States in recent years has been far less inclined to apply force to diplomacy and far more content to lead from behind” than it was at the close of 1995.
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