Some things change for the better. Some things barely change at all. And some things, change for the absolute worst. History gives us an unvarnished lens into our progress. It reminds us of all our mistakes and our triumphs.
So, as we head into 2022 — here is a blast from the past. Or rather, a proverbial walk down memory lane. Because I am about to dive into some of the biggest moments from 50 years ago today.
It’s 1972. And 1972 had a lot going on.
It was a year of Northern Irish conflict. It was the year that Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines and the year that Japanese Sargent Shoichi Yokoi was found hiding in the Guam jungle. He had been there since World War II.
1972 saw massive opposition to the Vietnam war and John Lennon and Yoko Ono threatened with deportation for asking Americans to “Give Peace a Chance.” It was also the year that Bobby Fisher became the first American to win the World Chess Championship in Iceland against Boris Spassky.
Some of you may not have been born. I was barely out of diapers.
It’s no surprise that a lot has happened since then. But what I want to know as we head into 2022, is have we made progress?
1972 was the year that plumbers broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington DC to install listening devices.
Spearheaded by G. Gordon Liddy, Nixon’s finance counsel for the president’s re-election and approved by John Dean, the plan quickly went off the rails after Frank Willis, the security guard on duty at the Watergate complex noticed that the doors between the parking garage and some of the offices had been tampered with.
Liddy and the Whitehouse initially tried to cover up the botched job by claiming that the intruders were Cuban freedom fighters. But the five intruders as well as Liddy and former CIA officer and mastermind, E Howard Hunt were all indicted in June of this year.
Insider details of Watergate later broke in a story published by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the Washington Post. Despite this, Nixon would win re-election by a landslide against George McGovern in November 1972.
So, as we head into 2022 — have we moved things forward? Have we learned from our mistakes?
Well, 2020 saw one party try to overturn an election by challenging ballot results and an incumbent president inciting rally-goers to storm the US Capitol building. The press reported the incidents, with a plethora of articles showcasing Trump’s faithful trying to make America great again. To date, over 700 people have been arrested from over 45 states. Eleven Trump associates have been arrested including Manafort, Gates and Cohen. But the man of the hour, Donald Trump, still looms large and looks hell-bent on running for office again in 2024.
Progress verdict: I have to vote no progress.
The Stock Market
In November 1972, the Dow Jones topped 1,000 points for the first time. Nixon had just been re-elected and a peace treaty in Vietnam was underway. Life was good. Well-known stocks like Xerox, Avon, IBM, HP and McDonald’s all led the market to unprecedented heights.
But before you get too excited about the parallels to today’s booming stock market which currently has the Dow up at over 36,000 points — know that the very next year — things were not looking so rosy for America and the world.
That’s because, in 1973, the stock market bottomed out. The Dow tumbled to just over 500 points. Inflation, unemployment, high oil prices and a devalued dollar all contributed to what was commonly referred to as stagflation.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Sure, we might be headed for a recession in 2022. The pundits have been saying as much for the last year — and COVID and the supply chain issues we are facing-aren’t helping. But if the market is any indication — things may not be as dire as they seem.
Progress verdict: Time will tell, but this sure looks like change for the better.
1972 was a big year in space exploration. Apollo 17 was launched by the Americans to explore the moon. It was the last flight of the Apollo program and the last time that humans walked on the moon. 1972 was also the year that Pioneer 10 was put in space to perform the first flyby of Jupiter. But the Americans weren’t the only ones getting into the game. The Russians also launched Venera 8, a space probe that was sent to explore Venus.
Fast forward to this decade, and we have seen three missions to Mars by the United States, one by China and another by the United Arab Emirates in partnership with the Americans via a Japanese rocket. Last year, saw Rover land on Mars and commercial space exploration kick into full swing. And if Elon Musk has his way, we may have a man-made base on the moon and a city on Mars in the next few years.
However, while things may seem like they are moving along nicely, it’s important to keep progress in perspective. Because despite the billions that have been invested in space exploration over the past 50 years — only 4% of the visible universe has been explored to date.
Progress verdict: One giant step for mankind on a long and seemingly endless road.
In 1972, Munich hosted the Summer Olympics. Mark Spitz, an American swimmer, dazzled with 7 gold medals including a gold in the 100 meters freestyle with a time of 51:22. Olga Korbut, the tiny gymnast from the Soviet Union garnered 3 gold medals and 1 silver. But the Olympics did not go off without a hitch.
1972 saw a group of Palestinian terrorists invade the Olympic Village and take nine Israeli athletes hostage and kill two others in an attempt to have 200 Palestinian prisoners in Israel released. Sadly, all the hostages as well as five of the captors were killed in a botched rescue attempt.
Since that time, Olympic swimmers have shaved almost 7 seconds off Spitz’s 100-meter freestyle time. Michael Phelps has beaten every Spitz record ever set. And in 2008, Phelps took home 8 gold medals to become the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time.
Similarly, in gymnastics, Romania’s Ekaterina Szabo (1984) and America’s Simone Biles (2016), both took home four golds apiece, making them only two of seven gymnasts in history to take home 4 gold medals.
Thankfully, we have not seen a repeat terrorist invasion at the Olympics. But things between the Palestinians and the Israelis have continued to be anything but cordial.
In 2021, another outbreak of violence occurred between Israel and Palestine, triggered by an impending Supreme Court ruling around the eviction of six Palestinian families. The conflict led to riots, rocket attacks, airstrikes, the death of 256 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, as well as the demolition of 18 buildings, 461 housing units, 4 high-rise towers and 40 schools.
It turns out that progress in sports may be far easier than progress between nation-states. And Israel and Palestine have proven this out.
Progress verdict: You win some, you lose some.
The Supreme Court
In 1972, Chief Justice Warren Burger was at the helm of the Supreme Court, alongside 4 other Nixon appointees. It marked the beginning of a much more conservative bench, which sounds surprisingly familiar to anyone looking at our Supreme Court appointees circa 2022.
1972 was the year that the Supreme Court considered the issue of marriage equality for the first time. Brought before the court by a gay Minneapolis couple, Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnel, the case was roundly dismissed, “for want of substantial federal question.”
Today gay marriage is legally recognized in 37 states in America. However, not all states have jumped on the marriage equality bandwagon. Thirteen states still do not allow same-sex marriage under their “Defense of Marriage Acts.”
In 1972, the Supreme Court also surprised the nation by ruling that the death penalty was a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment — ruling that it was being applied in a manner that had disproportionately harmed minorities and the poor.
This verdict gave all death row inmates some reprieve. But this was short-lived, and over the next 4 years, 30 states changed their laws to allow for the death penalty. Today, the death penalty is still legal in 20 states, and over 800 prisoners have been executed since 1972 in Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia and Florida.
It’s particularly important to note that while Black people represent 13% of the US population, they make up 42% of death row inmates today.
2021 has also seen the court weigh in on abortion rights. The justices upheld the rights of Texas citizens to openly sue any state licensing medical official involved in helping a woman terminate her pregnancy. And with this ruling (or rather non-ruling), the right to choose for women in Texas has effectively been stripped away.
So, have we made leaps and bounds on the courts in this country? That depends on who you ask. But if you are like me and favor marriage equality but are against the death penalty, you’d question really how far we have come.
Progress verdict: I’m going to have to rule against the courts.
1972 was a year chock-full of breakthrough discoveries and remarkable achievements. But it was also a time of conflict, inequality, and divisions. The world has visibly evolved over the past 50 years.
Today, we have cell phones, Google, video games and cheap global travel. We have eradicated smallpox, diagnosed diseases and decoded the human genome. We’ve introduced electric cars, put GPS on smartphones and seen solar energy go mainstream.
But before we go and pat ourselves on the back, it’s important to recognize that history has a knack for repeating itself. And in many respects, America really hasn’t changed that much. Especially in some key areas that affect us all.
Perhaps 2022 will be different.
© Courtney Burry 2021, All Rights Reserved