No one would have predicted after that incredibly fast-paced decade of the '80s that the year 1990 would be so sensational. Whether it was actually the beginning of a new era or the end of an old one, it was a very big year indeed.
The year's frenetic pace was especially notable internationally. The events in countries outside the United States were filled with positive overtones. Because of the changes in the Soviet Union and the decline of communism, the entire face of the world changed.While Mikhail Gorbachev wrestled with Soviet reform, turmoil became the order of the day. As a testament of the practical failure of the communist system, the Russian economy collapsed.
Not only were Soviet leaders willing to cooperate with the United States more than they ever had before, they even accepted U.S. economic aid. For many Russians it was a public embarrassment, but it was also a strong signal for new, more productive, empathetic relations with the United States.
The Cold War was over.
Meanwhile a Soviet restructuring began that may spell an entirely different Soviet Union for the decade of the '90s - even as turmoil continues in the Balkan states.
Miracles occurred in Eastern Europe, where democratic elections were held and steps taken to adopt market economies.
The thrilling climax came at the very end of the year with the election of Lech Walesa as president of Poland. Walesa, the shipyard electrician who made the union movement called "Solidarity" a household word and symbolized wholesale change in Eastern Europe, took 10 years to reach the top.
In Germany, the quick reunification of East and West Germany followed the fall of the Berlin Wall after nearly a half century of division. Charismatic West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl made history by both spearheading the effort and being elected to head the new Germany in the country-wide elections.
In South Africa, where apartheid has reigned supreme for more than 40 years, there were encouraging signs toward change.
Nelson Mandela, who spent most of his adult life in prison, finally walked out to freedom. His lifelong colleague in the African National Congress (ANC), Oliver Tambo, even returned from a 30-year exile. Violence also escalated as President Frederik de Klerk moved toward equalizing relationships between blacks and whites.
There is much left to do in South Africa.
In England, Margaret Thatcher, a 12-year conservative prime minister who acted as Ronald Reagan's best friend among leaders of nations, was forced out of office and replaced by John Major.
Although Major was part of the Thatcher cabinet, he is not likely to be a Thatcher clone. This is an interesting development just as the European Economic Community searches for a closer relationship in an effort to speak with one voice in the world.
There were many other examples of world turmoil - Manuel Noriega, the ousted Panamanian leader, surrendered to U.S. forces and was taken to Florida to stand trial for alleged drug trafficking.
Violeta Chamorro won the presidency from the Sandinistas in Nicaragua - bringing an end to the influence of the Contras and a long, bloody civil war.
In Lebanon, American hostages Robert Polhill and Frank Reed were freed after more than three years in captivity - with six other Americans remaining captive. But the most distressing foreign problem resulted from the misguided and deceptive decision of Iraq's Saddam Hussein to invade neighboring Kuwait.
Drawing immediate but questionable parallels to Adolf Hitler when he started gobbling up Europe prior to the outbreak of World War II, a resolute George Bush sent American troops to Saudi Arabia - numbering 400,000 by the end of December.
With the help of the U.N., Bush gave Saddam an ultimatum to be out of Kuwait or face the prospect of war. Negotiation was only an afterthought, and both leaders played the stubborn role to the hilt, arguing over which date is acceptable to send representatives to talk before the Jan. 15th deadline.
For the first time since the trauma of the Vietnam War, America teetered on the brink of war.
Because of Bush's precipitous actions, protest movements started to grow around the United States as people freely expressed their nervousness and doubts about a war to be fought over oil.
That was not the only criticism the once invincible Bush had to endure.
The president, who had been elected in 1988 on the lead-pipe guarantee, "Read my lips - no new taxes!" broke his pledge. He also demonstrated a stubborn streak during three months of bickering with Congress, resulting in a government shutdown before a 1991 budget was finally and painfully approved.
Meanwhile, the country endured its worst financial scandal in history - the infamous savings and loan scandal - involving thousands of failed S&Ls - an estimated $400 billion loss.
Politicians of both political parties were blamed for the bad policy that produced it. The president's own son, Neil Bush, was the most celebrated of the S&L executives, along with Charles Keating of Arizona, who was charged with fraud, while five U.S. senators who tried to help him were investigated by the Senate for ethics violations.
It happened because the Reagan administration deregulated banks and hundreds of respected citizens in pinstripes took advantage of the situation.
In the end, every American will be held liable for the financial bailout of the troubled savings and loans - to the tune of $2,000 for every man, woman and child in America.
No wonder the country headed toward recession, the word that freely tumbled over the lips of average Americans but which politicians refused to use. By the end of the year, Nicholas Brady, Bush's treasury secretary, finally admitted that the country was experiencing "a significant slow down."
The worst signal was the financial problems of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., whose financial stability was cut in half because of the failure of hundreds of banks. The banking crisis was the worst since the Great Depression, and people more and more hung onto their money. As they did so, retailing took a nose dive.
And predictably, the November elections strengthened the Democrats' hold on Congress.
The corrupt legacy of the Iran-Contra fiasco continued to haunt the country as Oliver North appealed his conviction and Adm. John Poindexter, former national security adviser, was convicted of conspiracy.
The loss of integrity was evident everywhere.
Junk bond pioneer Michael Milken entered a guilty plea in the celebrated Wall Street fraud case and got a $600 million fine along with a prison sentence of 10 years.
Marion Barry, the notorious mayor of Washington, D.C., was caught in a drug sting and sentenced to six months in prison for cocaine possession. His political career was in ruins.
The crime of the year was the bizarre slaying in Boston of the wife of a successful salesman, Charles Stuart. At first it was claimed that a black man was responsible for the death, but in the end, Stuart himself was accused. Before he could be tried he leaped to his death from the Charles River Bridge.
Pete Rose, the popular player and manager of the Cincinnati Reds, was suspended because of evidence that he placed bets on sports, and he was then sentenced to five months in prison for tax evasion.
Thieves stole $200 million worth of art from Boston's Gardner Museum.
There were a number of world tragedies - an Iran earthquake that measured 7 on the Richter scale and killed an estimated 50,000 people.
In Mecca, Saudi Arabia, some 1,400 pilgrims were killed in a tunnel stampede.
In Ohio, torrential rains spawned a flash flood that killed 26 in the small town of Shadyside.
In New York, a fire in an illegal club resulted in 87 deaths. And in California the long standing drought moved into its fourth year.
And Donald Trump, the flashy high-flying symbol of the '80s, suffered such major financial losses that Forbes magazine threw him off its list of top millionaires. Trump's marriage suffered a scandalous end because of his dalliance with actress Marla Maples.
Trump's fall seemed the best evidence yet of the collapse of the '80s and its emphasis on excess.
Even AIDS, the epidemic disease that swept through the world like a plague, actually leveled off in the United States, and scientists spoke optimistically about vaccine and better treatments.
There was also considerable hope about the use of gene therapy, the first cancer therapy using genetically altered live cells.
The high-tech shortcut still permeated society as Americans continued to immerse themselves in gadgetry.
All in all, it was a jam-packed year - one in which the trivial and excessive seemed threatened. The slump in the economy made it likely that the materialism of the 80s would not last into the 90s. On the other hand, sagging economies usually feed desires to escape.
That's where Madonna comes in.
When the Material Girl's new sexually explicit video was rejected by MTV, she was the subject of ABC's "Nightline," producing ratings that were the highest in its history.
It seems safe to say that fantasy in film and video will continue to dominate the new decade - in a style that is just as eccentric as ever.
Associated Press Top 10
Here are the top stories of 1990 as selected by Associated Press newspaper editors and broadcast news directors in the United States.
1. Iraq invades Kuwait, making hostages of thousands of foreigners and setting off a world-wide military response.
2. East and West Germany reunite after more than four decades as separate countries.
3. Political and economic reforms throw Soviet Union into turmoil; moves toward sovereignty are afoot in all 15 republics.
4. The savings-and loan bailout grows ever larger, touching the president's son and five senators.
5. Relations warm between United States and Soviet Union.
6. Budget debate between Congress and president drags on for five months before package containing tax increase is approved.
7. U.S. economy suffers a slump; layoffs and foreclosures rise throughout the country.
8. Fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe are threatened by ethnic turmoil, economic hardship.
9. Panamanian dictator Manuel Noreiga surrenders and is brought to the United States to stand trial on drug charges.
10. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher steps down.
Deseret News Top 10
How close did the 677 Deseret News readers who entered the Top 10 1990 Contest fare as compared to Associated Press Editors in selecting the top 10 stories.
It appears they did very well.
Here are the top 10 national and international stories of 1990 as selected by the Deseret News readers.
1. Iraq invades Kuwait, creating the Persian Gulf crisis.
2. East and West Germany reunite.
3. Political and economic reforms throw Soviet Union into turmoil.
4. Relations warm between the United States and Soviet Union.
5. The savings-and-loan bailout grows even larger.
6. Panamanian President Manuel Noreiga surrenders and is brought to the U.S. to stand trial.
7. Budget debate between Congress and the president drags on for five months.
8. British Prime Minister Magaret Thatcher steps down.
9. In South Africa, apartheid reforms accelerate and Mandela is freed.
10. Fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe are threatened by ethnic turmoil and economic hardship.